Pimlico partners are at odds again Manfusos to mull building Va. track?

December 13, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Are Tom and Bob Manfuso planning to build a track in Virginia to compete with the one proposed by Joe De Francis?

Is Virginia going to turn out to be the same sort of horse racing battleground that developed in Texas?

De Francis worked with one group to obtain a license to build a new track in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. At the same time the Manfusos, his partners in the Maryland Jockey Club, were associated with a Lone Star rival, R. D. Hubbard.

Suits and countersuits between the Laurel-Pimlico partners resulted from that spirited fracas, and the struggle is not over yet.

There was room to wonder if battle lines were being redrawn after it was learned last week that the Manfuso brothers have met with a group called Virginia Racing Associates, which wants to build its own track in Virginia and could be rivals of De Francis in the licensing procedure.

The Manfusos are large equity owners of Laurel-Pimlico, but because they control less voting stock than De Francis, have little say in management decisions.

The meeting between the Manfusos and VRA was held in Richmond on Dec. 4, two days after De Francis organized a Washington news conference to announce plans to construct a track near Williamsburg.

The VRA comprises Virginians, mostly connected to the harness industry, who have fought for several years to bring racing to Virginia and have been talking to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., about a joint venture. The VRA principals are Bill Miller, Bill Camp, Carrie Camp, Elmon Gray, Russell Williams and John Ramoudis.

The Manfuso brothers had a two-hour meeting with VRA representatives the same day the group set up a conference with Churchill Downs officials to discuss their Virginia plans.

But says Miller, the former Rosecroft Raceway owner, the meeting with the Manfusos was only "informational gathering" in nature.

"I don't want to sound facetious, but we'll meet with anybody," Miller said. "I've known Bobby and Tommy for a long time. We met and that was it.

"I don't think they have an interest in building a track in Virginia."

Miller said the Manfusos sought the meeting after their attorney, Andy Miller, saw Carrie Camp, a VRA associate, at a social function.

Bill Miller added that VRA's meeting with Churchill Downs was "more substantive and specific."

He said that he doubted if VRA will meet again with the Manfusos. "There was no talk of another meeting," Miller said.

When reached last week, Bob Manfuso said the meeting with VRA was "strictly a private discussion."

In response to questions, he said he has his concerns about the proposed location of the De Francis track.

"Just because you build a track in Orlando [Fla.], doesn't mean millions of people that go to Disney World or Epcot Center are going to go to the races," he said.

De Francis' site is located near such tourist attractions as old Williamsburg and Busch Gardens.

"I haven't seen a lot of data about the Williamsburg site and don't know much more than what I've read in the papers," said Bob Manfuso. "I don't know enough about the site to make an BTC intelligent comment. But my gut feeling is that it is not the right location.

"I do think the concept of developing a regional market is right on target. But who knows how the details will be worked out.

"Right now my only interest stems from owning significant equity interest in the Maryland tracks and whatever arrangements those corporations enter into."

De Francis said he had no idea that the Manfusos had met with VRA.

"It's impossible for me to chart an effective course for our company, if I'm not aware of what people are doing, if directors of my own company are having meetings with our competitors," he said.

"I am glad Bob recognizes the importance of the regional concept. I have said that the Williamsburg site is the best site I've seen so far, but we're not locked into it. If Bob thinks he can come up with a better site, I wish he'd come and tell me."

In the meantime, Jeff Gregson, Virginia lobbyist for Churchill Downs, said his group and VRA "had a real good meeting. We will start sharing information, such as financial projections and possible track sites."

Gregson said he thinks things on the Virginia front will move along "fairly quickly."

Once an application to build a track is filed with the Virginia Racing Commission, other interested parties have 90 days to file their request.

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