De Francis seeks partners to buy Laurel/Pimlico


Laurel/Pimlico track operator Joe De Francis, looking for investors to help him buy out minority partners Tom and Bob Manfuso, has held talks with two prominent local businessmen and two out-of-state companies.

Meanwhile, Hollywood Park is likely to become a partner with De Francis in the Maryland Jockey Club's bid to build a track in Virginia.

One source said possible investors in Laurel/Pimlico include Crown Central Petroleum chairman Henry Rosenberg and H & S Bakery owner John Paterakis, who are partners with De Francis in the SportsCenter USA complex at the Power Plant in the Inner Harbor.

Representatives of GTECH, the Rhode Island company that owns AmTote International, suppliers of the track's pari-mutuel equipment as well as being suppliers of the state's lottery system, also are said to have an interest in becoming partners with De Francis.

Another potential investor is Arnold Stansley, a harness track operator from Cleveland, who is one of six applicants bidding for a license to build a track in Virginia.

De Francis declined to comment about whether he has had talks with any members of these groups. Efforts to reach GTECH chairman Guy Snowden and Stansley were unsuccessful last night. Rosenberg and Paterakis did not return phone calls.

De Francis denied rumors that he had been close to completing a deal with Hollywood Park to buy out the Manfusos' interest in Laurel/Pimlico. Under the Russian roulette provision of a stockholders agreement with the Manfuso brothers, De Francis has until Jan. 12 to determine whether he will buy them out.

De Francis acknowledged yesterday that he has had talks with R. D. Hubbard, chairman of the board and chief operating officer of Hollywood Park, and said that "such an alliance is likely to occur" in Virginia.

"We are looking at it seriously," Hubbard said of the Virginia deal. "We'll know within a week or so if it will be finalized."

Hubbard, reached at his home in California, added: "The only thing we're looking at is the Virginia project. We haven't had any discussions" about buying the Manfusos' interests in the Maryland tracks.

However, a source said Hollywood Park officials were at Laurel within the last week, examining the books. The source said that the Hollywood Park board, which includes Bob Manfuso, is not interested in buying into Laurel/Pimlico unless it has control.

The De Francis-Hubbard partnership is considered an unusual alliance within the industry. Both men were adversaries last year an attempt to gain the license for a track to be built near Dallas.

The Lone Star Jockey Club, the group associated with De Francis, won the license. But then De Francis' partners, Preston Carter and Jim Musselman, surprisingly joined forces with Hubbard.

Eventually, Hubbard was forced to sell his equity in the track, although he still owns an interest in the management fee. De Francis still owns an equity position in the Lone Star project and also receives a management fee.

"If this comes together it would take our application [in Virginia], which is head and shoulders above everybody else, and take it to even greater heights," De Francis said.

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