De Francis wants to renegotiate inter-track deal Letter says agreement would end May 25


Maryland's thoroughbred and harness track operators are expected to meet this week to renegotiate financial terms of their new inter-track wagering agreement.

In a letter sent to harness racing officials last Friday, Pimlico/Laurel track operator Joe De Francis said that he will end the inter-track arrangement by next Tuesday unless the terms are reworked.

"Our performance over the first 10 days of our experiment has been dramatically different from what we anticipated in two important aspects," De Francis wrote.

"First, we are handling much more on the Freehold [harness] signal in the afternoon than we ever thought we would.

"Second, the handle at Rosecroft is much lower than we anticipated and is made up of a higher volume of cannibalized handle from Laurel Race Course than we anticipated."

De Francis wrote in the letter that he will terminate the "facilities use agreement" between the thoroughbred and harness tracks by May 25 unless more equitable terms can be negotiated. "I firmly believe it's in our mutual best interests for our signals to be sent to each others' tracks . . . . I seek nothing more than an arrangement that is fair and equitable to all parties."

De Francis could not be reached for comment last night. Pimlico/Laurel general manager Jim Mango said that by sending the letter, De Francis simply "served notice that we have to sit down and talk."

Rosecroft Raceway president Ted Snell would only say that "things will be worked out."

Because more people are betting on Freehold during afternoons at the thoroughbred tracks, that could be lowering the handle on the live and simulcast thoroughbred races at Pimlico and Laurel. At Rosecroft, the impression is that no sizable new business has been created; rather, bettors that used to go to Laurel are now going to Rosecroft.

Exact figures on the betting handles have not been made available.

Under the original agreement, Colt Enterprises, which operates Rosecroft and Delmarva harness tracks, lease Pimlico and Laurel at night and receive the proceeds from the standardbred races that are televised there in addition to proceeds from the afternoon Freehold simulcasts.

In turn, the thoroughbred tracks lease the Rosecroft facility in the afternoon and receive the revenues from televised thoroughbred races until the Hollywood Park simulcasts end at 7:15 p.m.

The agreement also stated that any party -- either the harness or thoroughbred track operators, horsemen or breeders -- can halt the program after giving 10 days notice.

"It had to be done in the manner that the contract stipulates," Mango said, adding that, "overall we are pleased with the way things have gone. But it hasn't been without problems. There is genuine concern about a number of things such as being able to bet the remainder of the Hollywood thoroughbred card [which ends about 8:30 p.m.], that Laurel is greatly impacted in the afternoon by Rosecroft and about bringing in the harness signal [Freehold] in the daytime.

"Among the good things to happen is that employment is way up, the overall handle is up and that our fans like the fast action of the multiple signals.

"There are other outstanding issues to be discussed," Mango said. "There is no finalized agreement on simulcasting [thoroughbred races] to Delmarva Downs in the afternoon. It hasn't been finalized whether we will be open 5 or 6 days a week. Or what kind of contract we are going to have [with harness tracks and horsemen] at Poor Jimmy's," the proposed Cecil County OTB outlet to be operated by Pimlico/Laurel.

Alan Foreman, counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, representing thoroughbred owners and trainers, said he had not seen the letter. "But I'm not terribly surprised," he said. "Our horsemen haven't seen the hard numbers yet. But at our last board meeting the thoroughbred horsemen viewed the situation with concern."

The inter-track program began April 23. About a week later on April 29, the thoroughbred tracks started adding multiple-signal, full-card simulcasts from New York, Kentucky and California tracks to their live program.

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