Investors who have publicly acknowledged interest in becoming partners with Joe De Francis in the ownership of Laurel and Pimlico race courses expressed heightened interest in the project yesterday after the announcement on Monday that De Francis had reached a settlement with his estranged partners, Tom and Bob Manfuso.
Toledo, Ohio, harness operator Arnold Stansley said yesterday he feels "confident" that the deals he has been discussing with De Francis -- participation as a minority partner in Laurel/Pimlico and a joint venture in plans for a Virginia track -- "will work out. I have a few loose ends to clear up and some people yet to touch base with. But I'm hoping it all comes together. I should know something for sure by Friday morning."
Arnold Heft, part-owner of the USAir Arena in Landover and a prominent horse owner, heads a group of about six Washington-area investors that has already "put a deal on the table with De Francis," Heft said. "I'm fond of Joe, or I wouldn't be doing this. He has certain target dates to meet and I told him if he needs to use us [as new partners] for the Virginia application, he can. In fact, even if he doesn't pick us as his partners [in Laurel/Pimlico], I told him I'll be glad to help him out any way I can."
De Francis -- who has less than a month to purchase the Manfusos' shares or sell his shares to the Manfusos -- said yesterday "if I make the decision to buy them out, I'm confident that I can get it done by Jan. 21." That is the deadline agreed to in the settlement.
A source said that De Francis has had recent discussions with bankers and that negotiations are proceeding "satisfactorily" to restructure the tracks' debt load of about $40 million. He would then take in new partners to purchase the Manfusos' shares at the $8.2 million asking price.
De Francis is also talking with representatives of GTECH Corp. of Rhode Island and Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif., about taking those companies in as partners at Laurel/Pimlico.
Renee Armen, a GTECH spokeswoman, said the company has "no comment" on the matter. R. D. Hubbard, president of Hollywood Park, did not return phone calls yesterday. De Francis has indicated there are other potential investors as well.
Virginia plans due
De Francis is working to meet Monday's deadline to submit the Maryland Jockey Club's application to build a track in Virginia.
He has been conferring with Loudoun County (Va.) officials and is looking at a site near Dulles Airport. He could decide to place the proposed new track in Loudoun rather than New Kent County, which had been the previous location selected for the track.
Snow forces cancellation
Jockeys at Laurel complained of poor visibility yesterday and decided not to ride after the second race.
"We couldn't see because of the combination of snow and dirt being thrown into our faces," said jockey Larry Reynolds. "We thought it was in our best interest to stop."
There were about 1,000 fans at Laurel and a total of 4,008 attending all Maryland betting outlets. Handle for the two Laurel races amounted to $78,219. An estimated $450,000 was wagered on full-card simulcasts from Calder Race Course, Philadelphia Park and Freehold Raceway, which continued through the afternoon.
Laurel/Pimlico general manager John Mooney Jr. said that "barring a blizzard," Laurel and the other outlets should be open for simulcasts only today.
The Ambernash Stakes, which was canceled yesterday, has been rescheduled for Saturday. Live racing is to resume tomorrow. There will be 11 live races on Friday through Sunday with a noon post time each day.
Jockey Mike Smith was thwarted in his attempt at Laurel yesterday to break a year-end record for number of stakes wins. On Saturday he tied Pat Day's record of 60 stakes victories in one season by winning both divisions of the Tropical Park Oaks at Calder. Smith was named to ride Shiprock in the Ambernash Stakes at Laurel, but returned to his home base at Aqueduct after the card was canceled after the second race. . . . The Laurel stewards have suspended Edgar Prado for seven days for failing to keep a straight course on Sunday with his mount Pucker in Laurel's fifth race. The suspension starts on Saturday. Prado failed to hit the board in five rides at Aqueduct on Monday. It was his first day of riding regularly at the New York track.