Another disgruntled partner in Laurel Race Course wants to sell his shares in the track.
Lou Guida, who owns about 7.5 percent of the equity, or non-voting stock, in Laurel, said yesterday that if operator Joe De Francis buys out his estranged partners, Tom and Bob Manfuso, "then he [De Francis] will also have the opportunity to buy me out at a reasonable price. If he doesn't, then he is going to be in another adversarial relationship with a partner, me against De Francis, and I will hire a battery of attorneys to cover all four corners of my interests."
Guida said he is "scared to death" that De Francis will buy out the Manfusos, "who have treated me warmly and kept me up to date about what has been going on at the track" while De Francis "has done everything he can to aggravate me since he took over after his father's death."
Guida said he thought that the Manfusos, who have offered to sell their shares in Laurel and Pimlico for $8.2 million to De Francis under a Russian Roulette provision in a stockholders agreement, set "a very low price and offered it at great terms [20 percent down, five years to pay as stipulated in the agreement]. They under-priced [their shares] by about $2 million. It's a fabulous deal for De Francis. I think they are just disgusted and want out. I think they are brokenhearted that Frank [De Francis] left them in the lurch."
Guida said he was a friend of the late Frank De Francis and got a group of his friends together to invest in Laurel in the mid-1980s. "We were the only ones that put up any venture capital, but no one anticipated anything ever happening to Frank. I still find it unbelievable that there was no written agreement between him and the Manfusos that would have ensured a smooth transition of the present management at that time. I think near his death he must have gotten nostalgic about his family and handed his empire over to Joe. Joe might have been a good lawyer, but he had no experience in managing two tracks the size of Laurel and Pimlico, and look what has happened."
Guida added that he has been told by Tom Manfuso that if the Manfuso brothers gain control of the tracks, then "my limited [non-voting] partner status will be changed to a general [voting] partnership and I will put an infusion of capital into the business."
Guida is part of the so-called Guida Group, which is composed of 15 New Jersey stockholders that own 50 percent of the equity in Laurel. Of the 15, there are four major stockholders, including Guida, who each own about 15 percent of the group's shares.
One of the major Guida partners has said that the group is neutral in the buy-out battle being waged between De Francis and the Manfusos. But Guida said "the majority feel the same way I do and back the Manfusos."
De Francis, he added, "has treated us like a necessary evil . . . an illegitimate child locked in a closet. He looked at our status as limited partners and treated us like third-class citizens."
Three years ago, Guida offered to buy out De Francis' interests in the tracks for $9.5 million, but it was rebuffed at the time by De Francis, who said the deal involved too many contingencies.
De Francis, who has not decided whether he will buy out the Manfusos, could not be reached last night for comment.
Starlight Surprise, a 20-1 long shot, jumped out to the front and cruised to a 2 3/4 -length victory over Broad Gainst in the $55,225 Queen Isabella Stakes.