Md. investors win Texas track license De Francis group is given contract


Investors who include the operators of Maryland's major thoroughbred racetracks have won a lucrative contract to help bring racing back to Texas.

The Texas Racing Commission, rejecting the advice of its hearing officer, voted 4-1 yesterday to award a new track license for the Dallas-Fort Worth area to an investment group that includes several officials of Pimlico and Laurel race courses.

Among the partners of the winning Lone Star Jockey Club entry are Joseph De Francis, chief executive of Laurel and Pimlico, along with track executives Martin Jacobs and James Mango.

Collectively, they will own 5 to 7 percent of the new venture and will serve as management consultants under a revenue-sharing contract, De Francis said.

A rival group that lost in the bidding included Robert Manfuso, a part-owner and estranged partner of De Francis in the Maryland tracks. "We're thrilled," De Francis said.

He said the new track will not diminish his interest in Maryland's tracks, in which he has a much larger stake.

"The notion that we would somehow abandon an investment like that is totally and completely fallacious," De Francis said.

The Texas project could benefit Maryland's racing, he said. Package television contracts, simulcasted races and other innovations are possible, he said.

Texas outlawed pari-mutuel racing in 1937, but decided in 1987 to bring it back. Licenses have been granted for tracks in Houston and San Antonio, but construction has not begun.

Lone Star's track, to be called Lone Star Park, is budgeted to cost $97 million. It will be built in Grand Prairie, a town between Dallas and Fort Worth with racing scheduled to begin in about two years.

Selecting from among the applicants for the Dallas-Fort Worth track became a politically charged process, and the racing commission hired an Austin attorney, Dudley McCalla, to conduct hearings and make a recommendation.

Last month he selected another group, largely, he said, because it was already operating a track in the area, a Class II facility called Trinity Meadows.

State law favors existing track operators in the dispensing of new licenses. But De Francis argued the hearing examiner misinterpreted the extent of that law, and the racing commission apparently agreed. Also, the commission has had disputes with the Trinity management in the past over the track's operations.

Robert Manfuso and his brother, John, also a part-owner of the Maryland tracks, had filed suit in Baltimore trying to block De Francis' bid in Texas, claiming it would lessen his attention to the local tracks.

A judge has thrown out most of the claims, but John Manfuso said yesterday that the issue could be raised again. He is concerned about executives of the Maryland tracks diverting their attention to Texas racing when the local industry is in a slump, he said.

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