A former owner of Ocean Downs decided yesterday to regain control of the harness track on the Eastern Shore, a move that would block Delaware Park owner William Rickman Jr. from expanding his holdings.
The board of directors of Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc. voted at 2:30 p.m. yesterday to regain Ocean Downs by exercising a first right of refusal, said John P. Davey. He is the lawyer for Cloverleaf, which owns Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County.
Cloverleaf will borrow $5.1 million from the Maryland Jockey Club to complete the deal. Of that $5.1 million, $2.6 million is the sales price, and $2.5 million will go into a five-year escrow account to continue operating Ocean Downs as a summer track and year-round simulcast center, Davey said.
Cloverleaf would not settle on the property until after Sept. 15, and the current owner - Bally's - would operate Ocean Downs this summer, he said.
Its meet begins June 30 and runs until Sept. 2.
In 1995, Cloverleaf bought Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs, the state's two harness tracks.
But in 1997, Cloverleaf sold Ocean Downs to Bally's, the large casino chain. That contract stipulated that Cloverleaf could buy back Ocean Downs if Bally's sold within 10 years.
Two weeks ago, Rickman, the Montgomery County developer who owns Delaware Park, reached an agreement with Bally's to buy Ocean Downs. Cloverleaf had until today to exercise its right and match Rickman's offer.
"We are stepping into the shoes of the contract he negotiated," Davey said. "Our fundamental concern is to protect our live racing here at Rosecroft. We believe it is in our best interest to own the companion track so we can coordinate and promote standardbred racing."
Rickman could not be reached to comment. He has sought a foothold in Maryland horse racing for years, ever since his Delaware Park became immensely profitable because of slot machines.
His best chance now is the track proposed for Allegany County in Western Maryland. Rickman and his father, William Rickman Sr., are competing with the Maryland Jockey Club and Cloverleaf to gain the license to build and operate that track.
The Maryland Jockey Club, whose CEO, Joe De Francis, runs Pimlico and Laurel Park, and Cloverleaf have been partners since last year, when they agreed to split proceeds 80 percent to the MJC and 20 percent to Cloverleaf.
Davey said that that revenue-sharing agreement and Cloverleaf's recent success operating Rosecroft Raceway allowed Cloverleaf the financial security to repurchase Ocean Downs.