Minimal '99 schedule proposed for Colonial

De Francis, Jacobs see light at end of Va. tunnel

January 21, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. -- Sitting side by side in a rare display of unity, Joseph A. De Francis and Jeffrey P. Jacobs shoved aside past differences yesterday and delivered the forecast for horse racing in Virginia: bleak and cloudy this year, with sunshine and improving fortunes in the future.

For 1999 at the beleaguered Colonial Downs racetrack, they proposed a 25-day thoroughbred meet Sept. 5 to Oct. 10 and no harness meet. Harness racing could return in 2000 after a year of cost cutting and improved management, they said.

"This will be the leanest year for live racing ever," said Jacobs, Colonial Downs' chairman and CEO. "We're digging ourselves out of a hole this year."

In an effort to avoid bankruptcy, Jacobs forged a new agreement with De Francis that transfers day-to-day management of Colonial Downs and four off-track betting parlors to the Maryland Jockey Club, of which De Francis is president and CEO.

After months of conflict over unpaid management fees, De Francis and Jacobs unveiled their newborn partnership at the monthly meeting of the Virginia Racing Commission. With agreement in hand, they announced a changing of the guard.

"I'm stepping back," Jacobs said. "Joe and his team are stepping in."

A member of the family that owns the Cleveland Indians, Jacobs had been roundly criticized for his management of the 2-year-old track between Richmond and Williamsburg. The operation lost more than $6 million last year.

In the first interstate racing cooperative in the nation, the Maryland Jockey Club managed Colonial Downs' thoroughbred meet -- and shut down live racing in Maryland -- in return for 2 percent of most money wagered in Virginia.

But Jacobs failed to pay more than a year's worth of the fee, and he and De Francis were locked in arbitration over the issue -- until financial desperation forced them to abandon the fight and cooperate.

De Francis agreed to accept a fee of 1 percent for the first $75 million wagered annually and 2 percent after that -- in return for taking over management of the entire operation. However, the Maryland Jockey Club must operate within a budget controlled by Jacobs. Representatives of the two sides have begun working on a budget for 1999.

"I'm very hopeful this structure will work," De Francis said.

Jacobs said that between $3 million and $4 million would be available for live racing. That would put thoroughbred purses at below last year's level.

How much below will depend on what happens with harness racing, which lost $1 million last year at Colonial Downs, Jacobs said. His $3 million to $4 million includes about $600,000 in bonuses for owners of Virginia-breds who compete at out-of-state harness tracks, including Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland.

That was Jacobs' plan for appeasing the state's fledgling harness industry. It was received coolly by commissioners, who urged him to reconsider some sort of harness meet at Colonial Downs.

The 25 days of thoroughbred racing would be Friday through Tuesday, beginning at 3 p.m. each day. Jacobs said that would probably result in a decrease in on-track attendance but an increase in out-of-state simulcast wagering.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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