Members of the Maryland Racing Commission voiced concern Tuesday for the coming bankruptcy auction of Magna Entertainment Corp.'s three in-state racing properties - Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center - during their monthly meeting at Laurel Park.
Last week Magna received permission from a bankruptcy judge to auction its Maryland tracks early next year with the provision that buyers promise to keep the Preakness in Maryland. The Maryland legislature this year passed a law granting the government rights to seize the Preakness under eminent domain in an effort to ensure that the middle leg of racing's Triple Crown remains in the state.
That law also gives Maryland the right of first refusal on the sale and says it can match the best offer if it feels it is in the best interest of the state and its horse racing industry.
"I think the most pressing concern is, No. 1, that whoever purchases the racetracks certainly abides by the will that the Preakness continues to run and never leaves," Maryland Racing Commission executive director Mike Hopkins said. "And No. 2, they would all feel much more relaxed if whoever purchases the properties purchases all three of them and that they not be sold separately."
Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said he believes the goal "is to sell the properties as one unit," but added, "it could go either way."
The commission must approve a license for any owner to operate live racing at Maryland's racetracks.
Commission member Mary Louise Preis wondered, "What happens if [after doing the required background check] we don't license the buyer?"
Asked whether lack of commission approval would void the bankruptcy sale, senior assistant attorney general Bruce C. Spizler said it would all depend on the specifics of the court order.
"No one could force anyone to conduct racing," Spizler said. "So if someone purchased the racetrack and decided not to conduct racing but to develop the property, that would be within their prerogative, although I have not seen the order of the court, yet it sounds like the terms of the bidding will include the continuation of conducting the Preakness here.
"If that's the case, then it would seem the person would have to continue to conduct racing, at least to some extent, at Pimlico."
Bids for the properties must be received by Nov. 2 and released to the state Dec. 7. The state then has 60 days to review the bids. The auction is set for Jan. 8.
The commission also approved racing dates for Ocean Downs, which asked for 40 days of live racing - as it has traditionally done - between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2010. Dates for Maryland's thoroughbred tracks are to be finalized at the next commission meeting Nov. 10.
Notes: : The commission also approved padded whips, a much kinder whip, as the standard for Maryland tracks. ... It also asked Maryland State Lottery director Buddy Roogow to use language in ads and on the lottery's Web site encouraging people who play the Race Track game to come see the real thing at Maryland tracks, a request Roogow agreed to.