Magna's Improvements to Laurel Behind Schedule

It appears unlikely Magna Entertainment Corp., majority owners of the Maryland Jockey Club, will fulfill its promise of spending $5 million on improvements at Laurel Park prior to an Aug. 31 deadline, which has led Maryland Racing Commission members to warn of a possible "Armageddon" over the issue.

Upon taking over a majority interest of the Maryland Jockey Club, Magna agreed to spend $15 million on track improvements at Laurel and Pimlico Race Course. The first $5 million was to be spent by Aug. 31. However, during the racing commissions monthly meeting Wednesday, commissioners indicated things do not appear to be progressing on the project.

"I'm getting somewhat concerned that instead of making progress, things may have been going the other way for us," commissioner Terry Saxon said.

A $46 million plan to refurbish Laurel and Pimlico was presented by Magna to the commission last month. At the time, Magna president Jim McAlpine said it was unlikely the company could move fast enough to spend the $5 million prior to the Aug. 31 deadline, but the difference would be put into an escrow account to be spent later.
Prior to Wednesday's meeting, Magna lawyers gave the commission a document it thought would take care of the escrow issue, the Baltimore Sun reports. However, commissioners claim it was not an escrow agreement but an accompaniment to an earlier agreement.

The Baltimore Sun reports a big problem emerging are differences between Magna and the commission in what expenses count as improvements. While the commission wants to see upgrades in the barns and stable area at Laurel by Aug. 31, the head of Magna's construction team, Walter Lynch, said the money must initially go towards planning, engineering, and obtaining permits.

One decision already made by Magna is to keep Pimlico open as a year-round training center. Magna was considering only allowing horses to train at Pimlico only while racing was being conducted there.

Commission member John Franzone, who warned of the possible "Armageddon" over the issue, summed up his thoughts by telling McAlpine "I don't have any confidence in this plan you've laid out for us."