Magna boss, De Francis agree Preakness belongs at Pimlico

Language to prohibit move is part of sales deal

state law has a loophole

July 16, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Although Jim McAlpine, president of Magna Entertainment Corp., offered few specifics about his company's plans for Maryland racing, he was emphatic about the Preakness.

"Our feelings are that it should stay here forever," McAlpine said.

Joseph A. De Francis, who will continue as president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said that he would not have sold a majority interest in the tracks to Magna if Magna had shown any inclination for moving the Preakness from Baltimore to one of its other tracks.

"It's definitely staying here at Pimlico," De Francis said of the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown that draws 100,000 people each May. "That was very important to us."

De Francis said that he and his sister, Karin, did not want the family name associated with the Preakness leaving Maryland. He said they insisted on the sales agreement containing language binding the Preakness to Pimlico.

"That's one of the things we asked for," he said. "And Magna readily agreed."

Lou Ulman, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, said that when the commission conducts a hearing on whether to approve Magna's ownership of the tracks, he will want assurance - in writing - that the Preakness stays here.

He said that was the best way of retaining the Preakness. State law contains provisions for keeping the Preakness, but they are not ironclad.

The law says the state can match the price if the Preakness were sold to another track. But what would the state do with it?

The law also says that if the owner of Pimlico "transfers" the Preakness out of state, then the racing commission can revoke the owner's right to race at Pimlico. But the owner could then run at Laurel Park.

"It's a hollow sanction," said Bruce Spizler, the assistant attorney general who advises the racing commission. "I would expect the commission to take note of this and act accordingly."

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