Bowie is going bye-bye.
How many times has that statement been written or suggested? Too many, unfortunately, when it concerns the corporate entity which has controlled the operation of the Prince George's track the last 14 years.
No one should be criticized too harshly for having hoped that, by now, the Canadian carpetbaggers would have pulled out or been forced from Maryland racing.
They care nothing about the thoroughbred sport, except as a means toward making money, and making money as the owner of a racetrack has become increasingly difficult in recent years. Bowie is netting less than $20,000 profit so far this season, so the only good thing about the operation, as viewed from north of the border, is the inflated salary the track provides a few favored top executives.
Bowie is not about to be sold. The chairman of the board assured us of that fact last week from his Toronto offices. "God bless 'em," Dr. Kenneth Roberts chided the group of Baltimore businessmen interested in purchasing plant, "I hope they put their money where their faith is."
The amount of money needed is $8.5 million, a fair price. But the Baltimore buyers appear either to have swallowed their tongues or folded their billfolds, or both.
Bowie and Marlboro are for sale. They have not been formally advertised, but Roberts inadvertently acknowledges their availability every time he talks about the two properties these days, and about the numerous inquiries he receives about them. But Roberts is not about to give Bowie and Marlboro away. The price tag on Marlboro as a land investment is approximately $3 million.
"We are a public corporation with public stockholders. As such, we are always looking for the best capital return," Roberts said. "What dictates our actions is what the bottom line shows.
"We are not the Cohens or the Schapiros," the board chairman added, referring to the owners of Pimlico and Lauril, Maryland's other major tracks. "I'm not a racing man. I don't own horses. Land development and real estate have always been my principal interests."
Bowie, Marlboro and Freehold (N.J.) Raceway run under Roberts' banner, that of Gibraltar Pari-Mutuel, Inc., Gibraltar traces upward on the corporate ladder to Foodex, and eventually to the North Canadian Oil and Gas Company.
Just what an energy conglomerate wants with three racetrack properties is as difficult to fathom as today's ninth-race triple. Indeed, there is every indication that North Canadian is anxious to divest itself of the Pari-Mutuel playgrounds. They bought out Hambro of London primarily to obtain FOodex, a fast-food business. Gibraltar, so far as North Canadian is concerned, is a rock.
Maryland racing fans, in the meantime, ar left sitting in their seats with business-as-usual at bleak, barren Bowie. The plant is almost palatable in midwinter, when the weather is cold and dreary. But on a lovely autumn afternoon, going to Bowie is depressing.
Going to Laurel later in the fall is not exactly a miracle cure for the blahs, either. But with Laurel, at east, you know who is responsible. John Schapiro is visible, even if he is up there in the cloud Casino.The same applies to Pimlico, where the Cohens are very much in charge of the daily programs.
Conversely, the people who manipulate Bowie act and sound as distant as they really are. It is as though Gibraltar's corporate chair is located near the Ice Cap. And the feeling the Canadian controllers radiate for Maryland racing is just as warm.
Perhaps the situation would be better if a Maryland group doesn't purchase Bowie at this time. The situation might be right, during the next session of the stage legislature, for the racing industry to push for Scaggsville Downs, a new $75 million racing plant near Interstate 95 and Rte. 216.
New Jersey has shown what can be accomplished with a sport authority. The meadowlands was an instant success. Maryland should follow the example. Scratch Bowie. Scratch Laurel. Keep Pimlico.
Maryland should go completely into the business of racing, instead of acting as a partner with private enterprise, as it does now. There are numerous locations off the eight lanes of I-95, between Washington and Balbimore, which would be a perfect site for a new track. Scaggsville is but one suggestion, being equidistant from the two cities.
A new track would be costly. It would also be worth the state's investment.