Developer and racetrack owner Mark Vogel said yesterday he has taken his two Maryland racetracks off the market and intends to fight to keep his operating licenses despite his guilty plea to a cocaine possession charge.

Vogel, who owns Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill and Delmarva Downs near Ocean City, went to Baltimore yesterday to notify the State Racing Commission of his decision. He said in an interview he will battle to maintain control of the tracks when their licenses come up for renewal this month.

"I'm a fighter, and I'm going to fight to keep my business going. I'm going to do what is in my best interest," said Vogel, the Bowie-based developer who holds a monopoly on harness racing in the state.

The decision marks a dramatic turnaround for Vogel, whose lawyer announced Oct. 1 that he would sell the tracks in an attempt to salvage his crumbling real estate empire. Vogel was asking $20 million to $25 million for the properties, which he said would provide him with $10 million to $15 million that could be applied to his troubled real estate projects.

Vogel, whose real estate holdings were once worth $1 billion and stretched from rural Virginia to Maryland's Eastern Shore, has been beset by financial difficulties. Arrested Sept. 13 on the cocaine charge in Fairfax County, Vogel pleaded guilty to one count of possession in November under an arrangement in which his record will be expunged in a year if he commits no other violations.

The decision to hold onto the tracks may require a political battle by the developer.

Several Racing Commission members have said privately they are unprepared to renew the operating licenses if Vogel still owns the tracks. After his arrest, Vogel was asked by the commission to relinquish day-to-day control of the facilities after auditors found he had used track proceeds to support his real estate ventures.

The Racing Commission made no decision yesterday. One of Vogel's lawyers is to submit a proposal in writing to the commission's director on Friday.

The commission has the authority to deny an operating license to a track owner convicted of a felony. But commission officials have said that Vogel's guilty plea poses a delicate legal question. Under the terms of the plea arrangement, Vogel was placed on a year's probation before sentencing, and the court agreed that his record will be cleared if he does not commit a criminal offense within the next year.

Vogel said he does not believe his plea will be grounds for denial of a track operating license. He said he plans to assure the commission that the track's manager, James Murphy, will continue to handle the day-to-day management.

It is unclear if the tracks would continue to operate if Vogel's licenses were not renewed.

"I'm going to tell them {the commissioners} that I love being in the racing business, that the racing business has a very good positive cash flow, that the business is more important to me than it ever was before because I need a good positive cash flow," he said.

"I own the tracks. I have over $10 million of my money tied up in the tracks. I did everything I thought was good for racing, and I'm going to do what is good for me. Right now, what is good for me is to hold onto the tracks," he said.

Vogel said he has "two offers on the table" for the tracks, which he will reject.

But he said he is planning to sell a 25 percent interest in the tracks to an unidentified outside investor with whom he has been negotiating. He described the investor as "someone very active in the racing business now, who knows Rosecroft well."

Staff writer Vinnie Perrone contributed to this report.