Pimlico/Laurel track operator Joe De Francis unveiled plans yesterday for his "Saratoga of the South" racetrack that incorporates some unusual racecourse designs with an ambitious program to restructure the current year-round Maryland season and move live thoroughbred racing to Virginia from mid-June to mid-October.
The proposed track is called Patriot Park and is located in New Kent County, halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg on Interstate 64.
An alternative site would be located on property called the Ashburn Center situated near Redskin Park in Loudoun County. The second site could be used if Loudoun officials provide an attractive financing package for purchase of the property and infrastructure construction. But those details would have to firmed up by Jan. 3, the cutoff point for proposed amendments to the original licensing applications, which were due yesterday.
De Francis was one of six applicants who submitted the licensing forms in Richmond to the state racing commission.
De Francis' proposed $55 million facility "is not a big mausoleum," he said. "But it's a unique plant that can accommodate 6,000 fans on an average weekday, 9,000 to 10,000 people on weekends, and through use of picnic gardens and other areas, a crowd of 15,000-16,000 on our biggest days."
Under the De Francis plan, the two states would operate as one circuit. While live racing is conducted in the summer at Patriot Park, the Maryland tracks and off-track betting parlors would be open to take bets on the Virginia races and the Virginia track and OTBs would be open the rest of the year to take the Maryland action.
"Each state would keep the monies bet in its own borders," De Francis said. "And there would be no charge for simulcasting fees [between the two states]."
De Francis estimated that by developing the interstate circuit, thoroughbred purses will increase from the current $140,000-to- $150,000 range to $210,000 daily.
The detailed architectural renderings of Patriot Park incorporate design elements inspired by Monticello in the domed main building, the Pegasus Room at the Meadowlands in the clubhouse dining area, the proposed SportsCenter USA project in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and the feel of the Middleburg Hunt Races with ground-level box seats.
Stabling would be provided for 1,000 horses. De Francis said the Pimlico barn area would be shut down for the summer, but the stables at Laurel Race Course and the Bowie Training Center would remain open for Maryland horsemen who want to ship to the Virginia facility.
Patriot Park would be operated by a new corporate entity called the Old Dominion Jockey Club, which would be owned 50 percent by Pimlico and 50 percent by Laurel.
Financing for the project is expected to come from raising $5 million from private Virginia investors and $50 million by selling bonds through Stephens, Inc., a Little Rock, Ark., investment banking firm that is a subsidiary of the Stephens Group, headed by Jack Stephens, chairman of the Masters golf tournament.
If De Francis obtains the license, Patriot Park could be open by the summer of 1996. "It would take that long since we'll need two growing seasons for the turf courses," he said.
Meanwhile, sources in Richmond yesterday said that while Churchill Downs, which plans to build a track in Virginia Beach, is considered the front-runner, its application lacked specific financial information.
Churchill Downs, Inc.: President: Thomas Meeker. Proposed $56 million facility located in Virginia Beach. 100-day racing schedule: (45 thoroughbreds, 55 harness)
Virginia Racing Associates: President: Elmon T. Gray. Proposed $55 million facility located in Portsmouth. 125 days of racing, principally harness with some thoroughbreds
Maryland Jockey Club: President: Joe De Francis. Proposed $55 million facility located in New Kent County, 21 miles east of Richmond. Thoroughbreds: mid-June to mid-October. Harness: late October to December.
TC Virginia Jockey Club: President: James J. Wilson. Proposed $49 million facility located near Gainesville in Prince William County (Northern Virginia). Year-round thoroughbred and harness racing, 250 days.
Arnold Stansley: Stansley is President of Raceway Park in Toledo, Ohio. Proposed $31 million facility located in New Kent County (same site as Maryland Jockey Club). One hundred to 150 racing days, principally harness with some thoroughbreds
Virginians, Inc.: President: Jeffrey Taylor. Proposed $28 million facility located in New Kent County (same site as Maryland Jockey Club). Forty to 50 thoroughbred dates plus mixed-breed racing (quarter horses, Arabians, appaloosas).