Summer racing move to Va. called 'non-negotiable'

January 13, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

The transfer of the 17-week summer meet from Maryland to Virginia is "non-negotiable" if Laurel/Pimlico gets the license to build a track in Virginia, operator Joe De Francis told members of the Maryland Racing Commission yesterday.

"The formation of a viable circuit between the two states has got to be attractive to Virginians. They just don't want to be an OTB [off-track betting] facility for Maryland," De Francis said. It was the Laurel/Pimlico operator's first public presentation to pitch his Virginia plan before the state's racing board.

Commissioners voiced concerns not only about losing the dates, which would be run in Virginia from mid-June to mid-October, but also about financial aspects of De Francis' project.

"What happens if there is some big loss [in Virginia] . . . if the track there doesn't work?" asked commissioner John H. "Jack" Mosner Jr. "If the track is a subsidiary of Laurel/Pimlico, is there the possibility that you will be using Maryland funds to keep it going?"

De Francis said that although exact financial arrangements haven't been finalized, "even under the riskiest [financial] structure, our projections show that we will still make money."

Commission chairman John McDaniel echoed Mosner's sentiments. "Our primary concern," he said, "is the impact the plan will have on Maryland racing. We don't want to jeopardize base camp by extending into Virginia at financial risk."

In addition to Laurel and Pimlico currently carrying nearly $40 million in debt, the Virginia track will be financed through the Legg Mason investment banking firm probably by raising $5 million in equity and $50 million "by selling junk bonds at 11 percent interest," De Francis said.

"My gut feeling is that people in Virginia aren't going to bet," Mosner said. "But then again, I'm an arch-conservative. I just don't want to see this plan backfire."

Approval from the commission may eventually be necessary if Laurel/Pimlico requests not to run live summer cards and for Laurel/Pimlico to own the Virginia track.

De Francis said a combined circuit would double purses and the concept has been approved by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

Mosner termed yesterday's meeting as "cursory discussions."

Meanwhile, in Richmond, Va., yesterday a De Francis competitor for the Virginia track, Jim Wilson of the Virginia Jockey Club, filed a protest concerning De Francis' proposed Loudoun County site with the Virginia Racing Commission during its monthly meeting.

Wilson objects that the Loudoun site was chosen after the original Oct. 1, 1993, deadline. De Francis contends he could amend his site selection by Jan. 3.

Don Price, the board's executive director, said that site visits and public hearings in the Virginia licensing procedure will start March 1 in New Kent County. Tracks proposed at that site by Arnold Stansley and Jeffrey Taylor will be discussed then, followed by visits and hearings at the other locations on March 9, 14 and 16.

Tom Manfuso, a De Francis partner whom he will either buy out or sell his interests in Laurel and Pimlico to by next Friday, attended the Virginia meeting.

Manfuso's attorney, Herb Garten, said Manfuso was in Richmond "as an observer. He feels he has to be kept up to date on what's happening in case he becomes the buyer."

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