Magna ready to buy Maryland tracks

May 21, 2002 7:11 AM

They won’t have to pass the hat around to buy Joe De Francis lunch when he and his sister, Karin De Francis, ink the agreement to sell the Maryland Jockey Club to the Frank Stronach controlled Magna Entertainment Corp. (MIEC).

According to the Washington Times, the sale price is in the range of $105 million for Pimlico and Laurel Racecourse and the Bowie Training Center. Also involved are three off-track betting sites.

Still to be resolved, said the newspaper, were the roles to be placed by the siblings of the late Frank De Francis, the man who single-handedly revitalized Maryland horse racing. Joe De Francis reportedly is demanding an active role on the board of directors but will permit Stronach to install his own management team.

But, even if that problem is resolved, Magna still faces problems with the Maryland Racing Commission, which must approve the license transfer. When word got out that De Francis was talking with Stronach, Commissioner Terry Saxon made public statements that he would oppose the sale. Saxon said he was personally discouraged to see a rapid decline in the operation of Gulfstream Park after its sale to Magna. He noted that the average on-track handle this past winter declined by 18% while total wagering fell 13.5%. Also, he said, Gulfstream experienced a serious horse shortage.

Saxon reportedly asked, rhetorically, "Why would Maryland approve an operator that runs a premium race track into the ground?"