Pimlico’s future looks brighter

Nov 19, 2002 7:56 AM

Joe De Francis should have known better four years ago when he backed the Republican opponent of Gov. Parris Glendening, knowing how popular the Democrat was.

But De Francis wasn’t getting much help for his Maryland Jockey Club, owners of Laurel and Pimlico racetracks, and he needed a major adjustment to the pari-mutuel taxes, or slot machines, to compete with his neighbors, Delaware and West Virginia.

Much to his chagrin, Glendening won and De Francis and his racing interests saw his state help dwindle to practically nothing.

Earlier this year, De Francis and his sister, who share ownership of the tracks purchased by their late father, sold a majority interest in their tracks to Frank Stronach’s Magna Entertainment Corp. (MEIC), hoping the company’s deep pockets would help revitalize their dying properties.

Then the unexpected happened: the GOP candidate, Robert Ehrlich, Jr., a strong advocate of race track slots, won the Maryland governorship over Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, an avowed opponent to any kind of gaming expansion.

Stronach had announced he would completely rebuild Pimlico, home of the Preakness, a Triple Crown gem that he wanted desperately. But, when it became obvious that his tracks might soon be transformed into "racinos," his plans were scrapped while new ones were rushed to the drawing board.

Still, Stronach’s goal is to raise Pimlico’s prestige to the level of his competitors who own the other two legs of the Triple Crown — Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) with the Kentucky Derby, and New York Racing Association (NYRA) with the Belmont. And with slots money pouring in within the next couple of years he should have the resources to accomplish his dream.