Jan. 8 set for auction of Pimlico and Laurel Park tracks

October 14, 2009 7:04 PM

Brian S. Rosen (left), the attorney for Magna, after a hearing in Delaware this year.A bankruptcy judge has approved Jan. 8 for the auction of Maryland’s thoroughbred race tracks, and a former owner could be among the potential bidders for the properties.

Joseph De Francis, whose family sold controlling interest in Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course to Magna Entertainment Corp. in 2002, objected through his attorney to the three-month timetable of the proposed bidding process and auction.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware ruled in favor of Magna’s proposal at a hearing Wednesday morning. Bids are due Nov. 2 and the auction will be held Jan. 8.

An attorney for Magna, which filed for bankruptcy in March, said De Francis had been in touch with the Ontario-based company for several months about his interest in the tracks.

“But I don’t think [his proposals] had much substance and we look forward to selling for more real money,” Brian S. Rosen said after the hearing. Rosen added it was likely that De Francis would submit a bid in November.

De Francis said he was “disappointed” by that characterization.

“He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, and we’ll see where things go from here,” De Francis said.

De Francis, whose track ownership tenure was marked by the growth of simulcast racing and the advent of slots at tracks in neighboring states, said he would not comment on negotiations. But he confirmed he was talking to Magna about bringing the Maryland tracks out of bankruptcy. De Francis took over Laurel and Pimlico upon the death of his father, Frank, in 1989.

Although he and his sister Karin sold their remaining interest in the tracks to Magna in 2007, the De Francises retain a deal with Magna that entitles them to 18 percent of any future profits the company receives from slot machines if the games are ever approved for the track.

De Francis objected to Magna’s auction timetable because it would not preserve his family’s “alternative gaming rights” at Laurel and Pimlico, according to the court filing.

Pikesville developer Carl Verstandig told The Daily Record Tuesday he would bid on Laurel and Pimlico and is willing to spend $20 million to renovate both tracks.

The state of Maryland had also objected to Magna’s proposed bid and auction process but withdrew its objection Wednesday.

After bids for the Maryland properties — including the Bowie Training Center in Prince George’s County — are due, Magna will announce its “stalking horse” bid, or an initial offer that competitors can bid against, on Nov. 9.

After a stalking horse bid is approved by the judge, other bidders must submit an initial competitive bid by Dec. 4 and will be notified that week if they qualify to bid at the auction.

Magna is asking that all qualified bids include a plan to keep the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, in Maryland. Preakness is run at Pimlico on the third Saturday in May.