Joe De Francis returned to Maryland from the Texas racing hearings yesterday and said he is "very optimistic" about the chances of the Lone Star Jockey Club to build a $95 million track in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
De Francis and his senior management team of Martin Jacobs and Jim Mango serve as consultants to the Lone Star investors, who are vying with three other groups to obtain the license.
Lone Star's main competitor is Midpointe Racing, Inc., headed by R.D. Hubbard, chairman of the board of Hollywood Park. Bob Manfuso, De Francis' partner in the ownership of Pimlico and Laurel, also serves on the Hollywood Park board of directors.
De Francis' Texas involvement has been a source of controversy between him and Manfuso. Bob Manfuso and his brother, Tom, have criticized De Francis and his staff for spending too much time on the Texas project. The Manfuso brothers had sought injunctive relief to prevent De Francis from participating in any racing ventures in Texas.
Last week, however, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge H. Kemp McDaniel dismissed the Manfusos' motion after a daylong hearing. That allowed De Francis to testify in Texas on Wednesday.
De Francis believes Lone Star has the advantage over Midpointe because of a "hands on" management team headed by Texas businessmen Preston Carter and Jim Musselman. "I have a lot of respect for Mr. Hubbard," De Francis said. "But the Dallas track will probably be running at the same time as Hollywood Park. jTC Unless Mr. Hubbard can be cloned, I don't see how he can devote his whole attention to it. Mr. Carter and Mr. Musselman will."
Newspaper reports in Dallas and Fort Worth, however, are characterizing it as a neck-and-neck race between Lone Star and Midpointe, with another group, Pinnacle Park, as the dark horse candidate. Trinity Meadows is the fourth group. The Texas Racing Commission isn't expected to make a decision until late July or August, although there could be more delays in a process that has already dragged on since December.
NOTES: Today's Hilltop Stakes, which drew a field of a dozen 3-year-old fillies, is the last of 29 stakes races to be run at the Pimlico spring meet. Edgar Prado, who rides Always Nettie, is the winningest stakes rider at the meet. He has won five stakes, three of them on Brilliant Brass. . . . Leading apprentices Billy Moorefield and Steve Hamilton each won a race yesterday and remain deadlocked in their quest for the Butch Eseman Award. . . . Carl Nafzger, who trained 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, is the judge of the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association annual yearling show, which starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Timonium Fairgrounds.