The lawsuit initiated by Bob and Tom Manfuso in the latest chapter of the De Francis-Manfuso feud raises questions about the $700,000 annual salary of Laurel-Pimlico track operator Joe De Francis.
Bob Manfuso said yesterday that the suit was prompted by a Sun article written earlier this year in which De Francis said he considered a stockhholders agreement null and void. The agreement, signed by both parties after the death of Frank De Francis in 1989, includes a clause that could trigger a buyout provision by either party after Oct. 1, 1993.
"We filed this suit basically to see whether or not we have an agreement," Bob Manfuso said yesterday. "On one hand De Francis says we don't have an agreement. But then he takes full advantage of his benefits that were outlined in it, such as possession [of the tracks] and salary."
De Francis said yesterday he has read the Manfuso suit in full. "Their filing raises no new issues. I would say it is wildly imaginative if they conclude that my only entitlement to a salary is solely because it is stipulated by the stockholders agreement. If their complaint is that I don't earn my salary, I would be happy to litigate that."
De Francis said that the Manfuso brothers received a $2.5 million termination payment when they retired from their track duties in 1990.
He said they also receive an annual severance payment of $250,000, which is now paid into an escrow account until a suit he filed last June, which questions the validity of the stockholders agreement, is resolved. That suit is scheduled to be heard in March 1994.
In My Power sixth
Even though the 4-year-old filly In My Power finished sixth in her debut in the ninth race at Laurel yesterday, owner Joanna Weber-Sichette said she was not disappointed in the horse's performance.
"It is just a victory getting her to the races," Weber-Sichette said.
In My Power was trapped in a burning stall at Bowling Brook Farm in January 1992. The fire killed nine other horses trained by Weber-Sichette.
"Her stall door was the only one we couldn't get open. It was engulfed by flames," said John Sichette. "We still don't know how she got out other than she kicked her way out."
When she got free, the horse collapsed from smoke inhalation and was rushed to the Marion du Pont Scott Equine Hospital in Leesburg, Va.
In My Power was a patient there for six weeks at a cost of $7,800. "When she left, the prognosis was guarded [as to] whether she would even live," Weber-Sichette said.
Right after the fire destroyed Weber-Sichette's stable, her house on the property was robbed. "We were wiped out," she said. "I was ready to throw in the towel. But this filly, and all the help and kindness from many, many people, made it worthwhile for me to try and fight and keep on going."
In My Power might make her next start at Delaware Park on opening day, March 20.
Task force proposed
Sen. Thomas O'Reilly, D-Prince George's, is proposing the creation of a task force to study the feasibility of a Maryland-Virginia horse racing circuit. The commission would be headed by the governors of each state. The Senate finance committee is holding a hearing today concerning O'Reilly's proposal.
New post time
Starting on Friday, post time at Laurel and the coming Pimlico meet (which begins March 25) will be 1 p.m. each day, including weekends and holidays.