Joe De Francis has completed "his dream team."
Yesterday the Laurel/Pimlico operator officially announced the hiring of John E. Mooney, whom he called "a fan's general manager," to become senior vice president and general manager at his Maryland thoroughbred tracks starting Aug. 1.
Mooney, general manager at Delaware Park, developed a loyal fan base at the Staunton, Del., oval and, to the amazement of many observers, has kept the plant operating for eight years in an area saturated with racetracks such as Philadelphia and Garden State parks, Pennsylvania and now Maryland OTB parlors and nearby gambling casinos in Atlantic City, N.J.
The 45-year-old executive replaces Jim Mango, who has assumed a new full-time position at Laurel/Pimlico as senior vice president of development and mutuels.
De Francis said of the most visible of his senior management team: "I couldn't ask for a better racing man than Lenny Hale to run our racing department. I couldn't ask for a better man than Jim Mango to oversee mutuels and our expansion into simulcasting and off-track betting. I couldn't ask for a better general counsel and executive vice president than Marty Jacobs. I couldn't ask for a better track superintendent than John Passero. And now I've got a fan's general manager who is equally adept at marketing and overseeing the physical facility."
Hale and Mango, De Francis added, "are stars in their own field. But they are two entirely different types of people. I thought I lacked a missing ingredient, and now, with John Mooney, I think I've got the catalyst who can build and complete a winning management team."
De Francis added: "We have been understaffed because the scope of our business has expanded enormously in the past several months. There have been shortcomings in certain areas.
"One criticism that has been leveled at us is that we have forgotten the comfort and welfare of our fans. Nothing could be further from the truth. But if we are guilty of this, it's not because of lack of concern, but because of the volume of our workload. Now, with John [Mooney] on board and the reputation he has made as a fan's general manager, I think the sky's the limit in what our team can do to better Maryland racing."
Mooney said his priorities in the day-to-day running of the track will be "to satisfy the fan and make him comfortable. We've got to create the atmosphere that this is a fun place to be, not only for the fans, but for the employees. The same goes for the horsemen.
"I've got some new ideas for marketing. I'm anticipating working with Lenny Hale to do a better job of promoting Maryland racing [to owners and trainers], which I see as on the same level as New York and California, especially if we get a combined circuit with Virginia.
"In the area of simulcasting, I've found that you've got to find the right mix [of live and televised out-of-state races] that suits your customers. . . . You extend friendliness and extra courtesies. I know this is what the Maryland fans want because we've drawn quite a few of them to Delaware Park."