Joe De Francis all but made it official yesterday that he intends to buy out his Laurel/ Pimlico partners, Tom and Bob Manfuso, a week from tomorrow.
When De Francis appeared before the Maryland Racing Commission yesterday to give a detailed account of his Virginia plans, commissioner Jack Mosner said "Well, I guess this [De Francis' appearance to promote the Virginia project] means you're going to wind up with the tracks [Laurel/Pimlico]."
De Francis replied, smiling, "Since there are reporters here, and they have been badgering me every day about this, I'll wait and make my formal announcement next Friday."
According to a settlement agreement worked out last month with the Manfusos, De Francis must decide by Jan. 21 if he will purchase the brothers' shares for $8.2 million or sell to them.
De Francis is still negotiating with several potential new partners who could take over the Manfusos' interests.
According to a source, "they are all still on the radar screen" and the eventual buyers could turn out to be a consortium of investors.
Among the groups:
* Toledo Raceway co-owner Arnold Stansley. He has developed a close relationship with De Francis and could come in for part, but not the whole, package. Stansley was in Richmond yesterday for the Virginia Racing Commission meeting and could not be reached for comment.
* Local horseman Arnold Heft. Some original members of the Heft group have dropped out, but he has since been joined by Crofton horse owner Bill Berkshire. Berkshire said yesterday he is in "daily contact" with De Francis. "We haven't come to an agreement. We still have to get to more defined terms," Berkshire said. "Joe has made it clear that he is in discussions with others. I've been impressed with the complexity of the deal and the details that have been made available to us."
* GTECH Corp. The lottery/pari-mutuel equipment supplier reportedly has dropped out, but could still come in for part of the total package. Company spokesman Bob Rendine was traveling yesterday and couldn't be reached for comment.
* Hollywood Park board chairman R.D. Hubbard didn't return phone calls, but is said still to be very much in the picture.
* Baltimore businessmen John Paterakis and Henry Rosenberg. Both are friends of De Francis' and are supporters of Maryland racing. Rosenberg owns horses and is a longtime sponsor of the Maryland Million.
* There is also the possibility that other potential investors may surface.