Whoever ends up owning Laurel and Pimlico race courses next year also will inherit a debt of more than $1 million because of high payments to the state's thoroughbred horsemen.
As of Sept. 30, the tracks had overpaid the horsemen about $1.2 million in purses, because, according to track operator Joe De Francis, "we had a disastrous first four months this year. Rather than cut purses and impact the quality of racing, we decided not to panic and to keep purses up."
Since the implementation of full-card out-of-state simulcasts and the opening of five additional off-track betting sites (two harness outlets and three OTB parlors), business has improved.
"Since the start of the Laurel meet a few days ago we are turning in some colossal numbers, up something like 30 percent over last year," De Francis said.
He added that during the Timonium break, "we budgeted out how we are going to get this money back. This is our plan. If we don't increase purses during the next 18 months and business maintains its current pace, we will get back to zero [overpayments] by January 1995."
After that, horsemen might see a purse increase.
The alternative is to cut purses now, and De Francis said he doesn't anticipate doing that. "We'd rather make it back slowly," he said.
Overpaying horsemen is nothing new, De Francis added. "When I inherited these tracks from my father [in 1989], he had overpaid horsemen $2 million," he said. "That's why we had two purse decreases after I took over."
Colt Enterprises, owners of the state's two harness tracks, faced a similar situation two years ago when it bought Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs from Mark Vogel, who had declared bankruptcy.
"The horsemen had been overpaid $800,000," said president Ted Snell. "But because of simulcasting and the inter-track wagering programs that have been instituted since then, we are hopeful we'll be back to zero on Jan. 1 . After that we should be able to give purse increases."
Another contributing factor to the thoroughbred overpayment is the greater number of high-priced allowance races and overnight stakes that have been carded in the past few months, races that horsemen have urged management to card.
Bob Manfuso, who is bidding along with his brother, Tom, for control of the tracks, had no comment last night.