Magna asks to auction tracks

Bankrupt owner seeks judge's OK to sell Pimlico, Laurel Park, others

March 21, 2009|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

The bankrupt owner of Maryland's thoroughbred tracks asked a Delaware judge this week for permission to auction Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore home of the Preakness Stakes.

Meanwhile, the attorney general's office has retained the Venable law firm to represent Maryland "concerning enforcement of the state's rights ... with respect to the Preakness," as well as about $190,000 in taxes owed to the state by Magna Entertainment Corp.

If Magna's auction request is approved at a hearing scheduled for April 3, bids for the Maryland tracks - as well as other Magna assets such as Santa Anita Park in California - would be due July 8 and winners approved Aug. 7.

Magna filed for bankruptcy this month.

The Canadian company's notice of intent to sell the tracks comes as state officials are exploring ways to ensure that the Preakness, the state's single largest annual sporting event, remains in Maryland.

Maryland law gives the state the first option to buy the Preakness if it is offered for sale. In that case the state, which is struggling with a huge projected budget deficit, would have to match any accepted offer.

In its March 17 request to auction Pimlico, Laurel and other tracks around the country, Magna does not specifically mention its intention to sell the rights to the Preakness, which it owns.

But in its description of Pimlico, the company notes that the Preakness draws more than 100,000 people to the Baltimore track and that the race has run there without interruption on the third Saturday of May since 1909.

It is that legacy which state officials are worried Maryland will lose.

This week, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller met with Orioles owner and horse racing aficionado Peter G. Angelos, who has indicated he might be willing to take a "proprietary interest" in the race, if that's what it takes to keep it in Maryland.

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