De Francis sees no showdown More betting expected for state


January 03, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

What can Maryland racing expect in 1993?

Thoroughbred track operator Joe De Francis sat in his Laurel conference room the other day and made a few predictions.

* No Russian roulette

October 1993 is when De Francis and his estranged partners, Bob and Tom Manfuso, are supposed to come to a showdown at the OK Corral.

Under a partnership agreement negotiated after the death of Frank De Francis, October is when a "Russian roulette" clause is to be triggered -- one side can set a buyout price that the other side either matches or accepts.

But, De Francis said, "There is no more Russian roulette deal.

"That's my legal position. The agreement I had with the Manfusos is null and void. Anybody waiting for something exciting to happen is going to be disappointed. Nothing is going to happen in October other than the Maryland Million and the Budweiser International."

De Francis said that once the Manfusos sued him last year (a suit subsequently dismissed in court), they breached the stockholders agreement, including the provision allowing the buyout.

De Francis' countersuit, stating that position, is not scheduled to be heard until March 1994.

Bob Manfuso concedes "the situation is not in our hands," but in the court's.

However, he said, "we have a viable stockholders agreement and we are going to act as if that agreement is in effect."

But what the Manfusos can do before the March 1994 court date is questionable.

"It is in everyone's best interest to get this resolved," Bob Manfuso said. "It's not in the corporation's best interest, or Maryland racing's, for it to be delayed. The proper thing to do is to resolve it. I'd hope Joe would recognize that and act responsibly.

"In the meantime, I'm not overly pleased with the business [declines] at the tracks in 1992."

Probable outcome: Don't look for ownership changes at Laurel or Pimlico in 1993.

* Maryland Miracle II

During 1992, De Francis laid the groundwork that he hopes will reverse the business erosion of the last two years and revitalize the industry the way his father did in the 1980s.

Fans should see in 1993:

* Several off-track betting parlors opening.

* Commencement of inter-track wagering between the thoroughbred and harness tracks. Rosecroft will be open for televised flat racing in the afternoons. Pimlico and Laurel will have televised trotting races at night.

* Increases in number of simulcasts.

"That's the overriding, dominant theme of the '90s: reduction of the horse supply and of owners in racing," De Francis said. "Last year, if you factor in the number of less races, then you realize the core of our business is sound. We have a solid fan base. But we don't have the ability to supply the amount of live product that we did in 1990, our peak year.

"So we are going to supplement our live card with simulcasts.

"But, a) they are going to be quality simulcasts; b) it will be structured so our fans will be able to familiarize themselves with the whole-card circuits we'll take from out of state; c) it's going to be a 'feel your way' process."

Starting this week, one race a day will be simulcast from Florida. Starting in February, "doubleheader" cards could be introduced.

Nine live races will be run. Then fans can stay for about two hours afterward and bet on simulcasts until 6:15 p.m.

"We could get in the last two races from Gulfsteam, the last five from Oaklawn and the first seven from Santa Anita," De Francis said. "That's a possible first step instead of intermingling the live races with the simulcasts."

But as the year progresses, whole-card simulcasts should be available throughout the day in addition to the live races and at night the same kind of format will be available for the standardbreds.

* More changes:

* Expect the announcement of a restructuring of Laurel-Pimlico's senior management team, possibly as early as this week.

* By the end of 1993, Maryland tracks could have their own cable channel and their own televised racing show, as a prelude to the start of telephone betting.

* An application will be filed by the Maryland Jockey Club sometime during 1993 to build a new track in Virginia.


But enough of what could happen.

Did you know:

* The Fourbros Stable of Bob and Tom Manfuso and George and Geoff Huguely is going to disband after 20 years of operation?

The partnership has about 16 horses.

The racing stock, yearlings and 2-year-olds, will be sold at the Winter Mixed Sale at Timonium next month.

Included in the dispersal is stakes winner Midas and the promising 3-year-old filly, Latin Prospect, who finished second to Whata Special Lady in her debut last weekend.

The Fourbros broodmare band will be auctioned off next fall.

* That Kent Desormeaux had his own float in the Rose Bowl parade?

He represented California racing and wore the silks of John and Betty Mabee, owners of Best Pal, his best mount of 1992.

* That Forry Cow How is the phonetic spelling of a real place in New Zealand called Wharekauhau?

In USA Today last week, Wharekauhau is listed as one of the 12 most beautiful country hotels in the world. It is a 5,000-acre homestead sheep ranch fringed by black sand beaches in Wellington, New Zealand.

The equine Forry Cow How set a track record for 10 furlongs at Laurel Dec. 26 in the Congressional Handicap. His owners, Eddie and Binnie Houghton, once stayed at Wharekauhau on a trip to New Zealand.

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