Maryland Jockey Club Helps Buy Track

In a bold move that keeps Delaware Park owner William Rickman Jr. from obtaining a foothold in the state's racing industry, the Maryland Jockey Club has loaned $5.1 million to the owner of Rosecroft Raceway to buy Ocean Downs. Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs are Maryland's two harness tracks. Rickman, a Maryland developer, had reached an agreement to buy Oceans Downs from its owner, Bally's, the casino chain. Ocean Downs is situated on Maryland's Eastern Shore near the Atlantic Ocean, a few miles from the popular summer resort Ocean City.

Ever since his Delaware Park became immensely profitable because of slot machines, Rickman has sought a racing foothold in Maryland. Two weeks ago, he and Bally's agreed to a deal that would have transferred Ocean Downs, a summer harness track and year-round simulcasting center, to Rickman.

However, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., owner of Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track just east of Washington, D.C., had the power to override the deal. In 1995, Cloverleaf bought Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs. But in 1997, Cloverleaf sold Ocean Downs to Bally's. That contract stipulated that Cloverleaf could buy back Ocean Downs--exercise its first right of refusal--if Bally's sold Ocean Downs within 10 years. Cloverleaf had until today to match Rickman's offer. Its board of director voted Thursday to re-purchase Ocean Downs. Last year, Cloverleaf and the Maryland Jockey Club signed a revenue-sharing agreement that makes them business partners. They agreed to split revenue 80% to the MJC and 20% to Cloverleaf while jointly promoting the sport, building off-track-betting sites and creating a telephone-betting network.

Rickman's emergence in the state could have threatened the newfound partnership. He has said that he, too, wants to build OTBs and a telephone-betting network. Now, his best chance in Maryland is the track proposed for 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.

Rickman could not be reached for comment. He is traveling outside the country. The Maryland Jockey Club requested that comment about the Cloverleaf-Ocean Downs deal come from Cloverleaf. Cloverleaf's lawyer John P. Davey said that of the $5.1 million from the Maryland Jockey Club, $2.6 million is the sales price for Ocean Downs, and $2.5 million will go into escrow to operate Ocean Downs for five years.

Davey acknowledged that retaining the current roster of track owners in Maryland was a factor in regaining Ocean Downs. He declined to comment about Rickman personally.

"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."