Citing stadiums, tracks to seek help, too

On Horse Racing

February 04, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Joe De Francis is in the gambling business, so he is rolling the dice.

Backed into a corner by the formidable revenue-producing slot machines at Delaware Park that constitute a threat to his tracks' survival, he is counting on the racing industry's considerable clout in Annapolis.

So, when he pleads his case this week to state legislators address- ing the Racing Reform Act of 1996, De Francis will hit hard with an economic pitch.

In an effort to secure extensive funding for a major revitalization of the rundown facility at Pimlico Race Course, the Maryland Jockey Club president will point to all the money being appropriated for two professional football teams to be located in the state.

"If they can supply $300 million for stadiums downtown and in Prince George's County, then, hopefully, we can receive some help," De Francis said. "We're certainly as deserving as a football team from Cleveland.

"We can offer 10 times the number of jobs as a football stadium and 10 times the economic development activity . . . if we can make our voice heard, get the assistance and implement the plans we have."

De Francis said numerous short-term construction jobs would be created if the aid is in the form of a grant or bonds. He says those jobs plus long-term permanent positions would be created if the assistance comes as slot machines at the tracks.

"We would very much like to get them if we can," he said of slots. "But we won't fight with the legislature about them. If there is no opportunity, we're not going to waste everybody's time and energy."

De Francis has dipped into the state tracks' $3 million annual capital improvements budget to refurbish Pimlico's Sports Palace.

Last month, new 50-inch television screens were installed to eliminate the fuzzy reception patrons were receiving from the old sets.

New self-service tote machines also have been added, giving bettors elbow room, facilitated wagering and individual stallings.

But those improvements will pale beside the future De Francis has envisioned for Pimlico. Artists' renderings of the new look show a self-contained facility that will be eye-catching, well-secured and lucrative if he gets the state backing he wants.

The timetable? A year to 18 months after the money is forthcoming.

"We first have to convince the legislature of the need and then get the funding," De Francis said. "If we don't get this help, two or three years from now we run the serious risk of not being able to survive at all.

"So, the future is going to be much, much better or a whole lot worse."

Rosecroft may lose day

If the severe horse shortage continues to affect Rosecroft Raceway, the track may be forced to decrease its live racing to three days a week.

General manager Dennis Dowd said that if "the current trend continues after a few weeks, we'll have to take those horses we have and use them over three days."

The problem arose when only 48 were entered for last night's program, one that normally would attract more than twice that many. Rosecroft was forced to go with seven live races, with shortened fields in four of them.

Dowd isn't certain whether Thursday or Sunday would be eliminated if it came to a choice. Dover Downs -- where slot-machine revenue and increased purses are drawing horsemen -- runs all three weekend days.

"We have some series races due to climax on Sundays, and there is very little competition in the country on Sunday, so the Meadowlands, Atlantic City and Las Vegas would all take our signal," he said.

"But there is a good argument to be made for Thursday," he said, alluding to Dover Downs' not racing on Thursdays.

Dowd agreed with the contention that "Dover is not taking horses out of Rosecroft. The difference is we used to get horses

out of Dover, and that's no longer happening."

Steeplechasers OK Lasix

The National Steeplechase Association will permit the use of Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication, at its sanctioned race meetings this year.

Final decisions on Lasix use will be at the discretion of individual meetings, but the NSA resolution now allows the option.

Steeplechasing was the only racing in the United States that did not permit the medication.

Racing info

The Baltimore Sun is offering expanded horse racing results and entries through Sundial, our telephone information service, and by fax. All services are free.

To get information, call (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. After the greeting, using a touch-tone phone, punch in the 4-digit code that corresponds to the track you want:

* Aqueduct: 5042

* Fairgrounds: 5044

* Freehold: 5033

* Garden State: 5043

* Gulfstream: 5040

* Laurel: 5038

* Oaklawn: 5041

* Penn National: 5030

* Phila. Park: 5035

* Santa Anita: 5036

* Suburban: 5046

* Suffolk: 5039

* Turfway: 5045

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