De Francis now looks to Loudoun Voted-down OTB alters Va. picture

November 05, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis has adjusted his sights in Virginia after voters rejected off-track betting parlors in Arlington and Alexandria by a wide margin on Tuesday.

"This makes us look a lot more seriously at the Loudoun County site," De Francis said, referring to property near Redskin Park as a prospective site for Virginia's first racetrack. De Francis is competing with five other groups for a license to construct and operate a racetrack.

"Given the overwhelming defeat, by a 3-1 margin, this raises a serious question about the viability of OTB in northern Virginia."

In his official application to the state racing commission in Virginia, De Francis' first priority had been a proposed $55 million track to be called Patriot Park in New Kent County, about halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg.

Two other track applicants, Virginians Inc., and Arnold Stansley, president of Raceway Park in Ohio, also based their applications on the New Kent site.

TD But building there instead of Loudoun County (which is closer to Washington) has become much less feasible without OTB outlets in the populous and prosperous northern Virginia bedroom communities of Washington. It also would mean bettors there would have farther to drive to reach live racing.

In addition, locating the track in southern Virginia now would be more unsound economically in De Francis' view because seven jurisdictions in that region already have approved OTB. The latest was the Hampton area.

"Once this is defeated, it takes three years to bring the issue before the voters again," said De Francis. "You have to conclude it is not very likely to pass the next time either [in Arlington and Alexandria] considering the vote."

The group representing Churchill Downs, considered the front-runner in the race to land the license, agrees with De Francis on one thing: Too much time and money is already invested to abandon the effort.

However, Tom Aronson, president of Racing Resource Group, which is being retained by Churchill to oversee its application, reads the voting results differently.

"This made it very clear the Hampton Roads area really wants a racetrack," he said. "It only re-emphasizes the desirability to locate it in the southern part of the state."

The Churchill proposal entails 100 racing days at a $56 million facility in Virginia Beach.

"Naturally, there is disappointment that things didn't go better [in Northern Virginia]," said Aronson. "But it gave us a good reading on the business climate there.

"Churchill's position is one of 100 percent commitment to Virginia. It will maintain its prominence in the effort to get a license."

Another of the six competing groups, Virginia Racing Associates, is ready to stay in the game as well.

William Camp, the group's chairman, said: "We are disappointed that the issue did not pass in Arlington and Alexandria, but that failure will not affect our resolve to bring a first-class racing system to Virginia."

Virginia Racing Associates would place the track in Portsmouth -- also in the southern portion of the state -- and conduct 125 racing days if it wins the license.

Early next year, the racing commission is to select an applicant to operate a track and the approved OTB outlets.

NOTES: Valley Crossing is the top state-bred money winner this year, according to the latest figures released by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association Inc. The Dick Small-trained horse has won $630,212 in 1993 and holds a lead of nearly $200,000 over Awad. Maryland Moon, forced out of the Breeders' Cup picture by an injury, is fourth with $233,609. . . . Edgar Prado rode four winners on yesterday's card, capturing the third race aboard first-time starter Gold Reef when Chaos Lady (who reached the wire first) was disqualified. Prado has 47 winners, 26 more than second-place Larry Reynolds.

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