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With its sale delayed, Rosecroft on verge of cutting purses, dates

A legal dispute that has delayed the sale of Rosecroft Raceway is starting to have an impact on the harness track's operations -- and on the fortunes of the horsemen who race there.

The managers of the Prince George's County track say they are looking to slash the purses paid to owners of top-finishing horses and might be forced to pare their racing schedule.

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Tom Chuckas, chief executive officer of Rosecroft, said the track had counted on the $55 million deal with Indiana-based Centaur, Inc. being completed within the first six months of this year and made spending decisions based on that assumption.

Because the sale has been delayed, he said, the track has no choice but to slash purses or cut back racing dates. He said Rosecroft has averaged purses of $57,500 a day for the three days each week it holds races.

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"Obviously, we can't maintain that purse level moving forward," Chuckas said. "We have to reduce the purse amounts or the number of racing dates. ... We're going to make modifications in our operations here."

Chuckas said the track's owners are "very disappointed" that the sale has not gone forward as planned.

"At this juncture, we're reviewing all our options," Chuckas said. "We're waiting to hear from Centaur and are basically in a holding pattern."

Rosecroft is owned by Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., a group owned by harness-horse owners, trainers and drivers.

The track in Oxon Hill, just off the Capital Beltway, became attractive to buyers because it has the potential to become the site for a lucrative racetrack-casino venture if the General Assembly legalizes slot machines. A bill killed last year would have allowed 3,500 slot machines at Rosecroft.

Cloverleaf signed a deal last year that gave Centaur exclusive rights to buy Rosecroft, but the sale has been delayed because of a legal dispute between Centaur and Delaware North Companies, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based conglomerate that Centaur later brought in to finance the purchase.

Delaware North sued Centaur for breach of contract after the Indiana company abruptly dumped it as a partner last month. On Friday, Delaware North won a federal court order that bars Centaur from taking on any new partners until the contract dispute can be resolved.

Centaur filed legal papers yesterday asking the judge who issued the order to reconsider his decision. Centaur also filed notice that it intends to appeal the ruling to the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in New York and will seek an expedited hearing.

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"We believe that we have a right to terminate the contract," said David Dawson, a spokesman for Centaur.

The legal maneuverings come as Centaur races to meet a Nov. 1 deadline for completing the purchase of the track. If it fails to meet the deadline, Centaur stands to lose a $2.5 million deposit to the track's current owners.

The proposed deal between Centaur and Delaware North would have given Delaware North 75 percent ownership of the track in exchange for financing the $55 million purchase.

In court filings in the breach-of-contract suit, Centaur said it ended its business relationship with Delaware North because of concerns about a 1972 racketeering conviction against a Delaware North predecessor company.

Delaware North officials contended Centaur was using the decades-old organized crime issue as a "pretext" to drop it as a partner because it wanted to negotiate a deal with another company.


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