A rift between Virginia track developer Arnold Stansley and Pimlico/Laurel owner Joe De Francis may be jeopardizing the proposed Maryland-Virginia horse racing circuit.
The clash between the two men has surfaced in the past week.
Talks between the pair concerning De Francis' contract to manage the thoroughbred meet at Stansley's Colonial Downs track -- projected to open in June 1997 at a 345-acre site between Richmond and Williamsburg -- have stalled.
It was Stansley's deal with De Francis -- whereby Pimlico and Laurel would be shut down in the summer and Maryland horses brought to race at the Virginia site -- that sealed Stansley's bid to gain the license last fall.
If the agreement is not reached, it's possible that the commission could yank Stansley's license.
The strained relations between Stansley and De Francis were evident at last week's Virginia Racing Commission meeting, which De Francis didn't attend. Not one Maryland Jockey Club official showed up, and commission chairman John Shenefield was obviously perturbed over Stansley and De Francis' failure to agree on terms. Shenefield told Stansley's attorney, Jim Weinberg: "You are on notice that we would like to bring this to a conclusion."
Commissioner Bob Beck further admonished Weinberg: "You better get your act together."
De Francis won't discuss the breakdown in his relationship with Stansley, other than to say unless a management agreement is signed before the board's November meeting "some kind of nasty statement" will be issued.
A person familiar with the negotiations said the dispute centers on the effect that proposed northern Virginia OTB outlets could have on Maryland's betting network. Not in dispute, Stansley said, is the 2 percent of the Colonial Downs handle that De Francis would receive as a management fee for operating Colonial Downs' summer-long thoroughbred meet.
In addition, Stansley's relations with the Virginia chapter of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have become downright chilly.
One HBPA director recently said Stansley has not adequately explained his plans or vision for Colonial Downs. The group is trying to negotiate an operating contract -- which divides betting proceeds and delineates expenses -- with Stansley by the time the track operates an abbreviated thoroughbred "tent meet" next summer.
Relations with standardbred horsemen are even worse. Stansley has yet to recognize the Virginia Harness Horsemen's Association as an official negotiating group and told it he wants to bring in the horsemen's organization from his Toledo Raceway in Ohio to run Virginia standardbred interests.
Reynolds Cowles, president of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, said there is general "queasiness" about the way events are unfolding.
"Everyone is skeptical about Arnold Stansley, especially since he and Joe aren't speaking," Cowles said. "There's a feeling that we don't want our track to become another Toledo Raceway or Trinity Meadows [Stansley's minor-league tracks in Ohio and Texas]. But there's this feeling that that's what this guy wants to do. Arnold needs to get on a podium and tell people his plans. But he seems to have this foxhole mentality."
After Stansley failed to submit contract proposals to the HBPA at a meeting in Warrenton on Friday, HBPA president Woodberry Payne said: "He is jeopardizing his credibility and persona not only with the horsemen of Virginia, but also with the politicians."
Stansley said he's not the "sociable type. That's what they seem to like, a lot of hullabaloo -- dinners and speeches. But I'm a horseman, and what I want to do is simply show them a track where they can race their horses and make money."
His negotiations with De Francis and the horsemen's groups "will all turn out all right," Stansley said.
"One person says I need this. The other one says I need that. But someone's got to get two-thirds of the apple until they can get everything their own way. That's business, and it's got to be worked out. There's time. Nothing's got to be done until there's actual live racing on the site.
"The agreement with Joe, for example, has grown from three to 47 pages. It's a volume. My problem is that I've now got four lawyers that I talk to three times a day. There is so much paperwork and so many contracts floating around. The phone never stops ringing."
Stansley also must contend with the court challenge filed by losing applicant Jim Wilson, who wants to halt development of Colonial Downs.
Stansley has met with Wilson and tried to work out a settlement. But Wilson has said he won't drop his case unless Stansley joins forces with him and tries next year to get the Virginia legislature to expand the state's off-track betting network from six to an unlimited number of outlets.
Stansley said Wilson's plan is impractical and won't fly in the legislature.
Stansley said he and his partner, Jim Leadbetter, are prepared to stay the course and already have spent about $2.5 million to $3 million in the project. A new investor, Jeff Jacobs, of the Jacobs family that owns the Cleveland Indians, is adding substantially more capital.
Last week, a bulldozer carved out the first bare outline of the one-mile racing strip at Colonial Downs, and there are plans for two OTB outlets in Chesapeake and Richmond to open by the end of the year.