Hollywood Park could buy tracks

January 15, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Unless he can pull together a partnership with local investors by early next week, Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis is expected to agree to a takeover of the tracks by Hollywood Park, sources said.

De Francis said yesterday that he and Hollywood Park chairman R. D. Hubbard are working out details of a final agreement that would sell 80 percent equity in Laurel/Pimlico for $15 million. Hollywood Park's sole partner in Laurel/Pimlico would be De Francis, who would own the other 20 percent equity and stay on as the tracks' president and chief executive officer. He said he would serve on a three-man executive board that runs the tracks. Hubbard also would be on the board.

At the same time, De Francis said he is negotiating with at least three local businessmen about joining him in a partnership to come up with the $8.2 million needed to buy out Tom and Bob Manfuso's shares in the tracks. A Russian roulette clause triggered by the Manfusos last year requires De Francis to buy their shares or sell his shares to them for the same amount by Friday.

Under that scenario, De Francis would maintain control of

Laurel/Pimlico. Maryland horse owners Henry Rosenberg and Arnold Heft and Baltimore businessman John Paterakis have been mentioned as potential partners.

Details of the Hollywood Park deal were reported yesterday by the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. The Inglewood, Calif., track would pay $8.2 million to the Manfuso brothers.

The other $6.8 million from Hollywood Park would be split by Marty Jacobs, the Laurel/Pimlico executive vice president and general counsel, and Karin Van Dyke, De Francis' sister, for their stock in the tracks.

If the local investment group came forward to buy out the Manfusos, Jacobs and Van Dyke would not get any money, but would retain their stock in Laurel/Pimlico, sources said.

De Francis, Jacobs and Van Dyke said yesterday that they haven't reached a decision. "We're in serious negotiations with Hollywood Park, but have not yet reached any agreement," Jacobs said. Hubbard could not be reached for comment.

Sources said the De Francis group would prefer to keep the tracks in the hands of Marylanders, but it could come down to a question of accepting a firm deal from Hollywood Park vs. a local deal that remains uncertain.

Heft, a part owner of USAir Arena, already has put an offer on the table. De Francis won't comment on Rosenberg, head of Crown Petroleum, and Paterakis, owner of H&S Bakery, and neither of them could be reached last night for comment.

If Hollywood Park takes over the tracks, it would be obligated to honor any deals entered into by the Maryland Jockey Club, including De Francis' efforts to build a track in Virginia, De Francis said.

Last month, Hubbard expressed interest in becoming a partner with the Maryland Jockey Club in the Virginia project.

It is uncertain how a Hollywood Park takeover would affect negotiations between De Francis and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who wants to buy 55 acres of Laurel Race Course property to build a stadium for his team. The land sale has not been completed.

Hubbard, 58, is the principal stockholder in Hollywood Park and is majority owner of Ruidoso Downs, a quarter-horse facility in New Mexico, and The Woodlands, a horse and dog track in Kansas City, Kan.

He has been considered a maverick in the racing industry. He has said that horse tracks need to offer other forms of gambling to attract new fans, and Hollywood Park is building a $20 million nTC casino-type card club that is scheduled to open at its Inglewood facility next month. He is a horse owner and breeder.

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