The general manager of Laurel Race Course said yesterday it is probable that the financially troubled track will be sold, but that he knows nothing of published reports that a Maryland-based group of investors has worked out most of the details to acquire the facility.
"Anything is possible, and some things are probable, including the sale of Laurel," said Ken Schertle, the newly named general manager of the track, which is about midway between Washington and Baltimore.
Over the past several months, Schertle said, "We've had several groups and combinations of groups talking (about buying the track)." But none of the talks has been fruitful, Schertle said, adding that he had no knowledge of a story published in yesterday's editions of Baltimore's Sun that papers outlining the transaction have been prepared for signature and that both parties have agreed in principle to the deal.
The newspaper said it had been unable to learn the identity of the prospective purchasers or the purchase price. John Schapiro, the principal owner of the Laurel track, was in Europe yesterday to extend invitations for next month's Washington, D.C. International race and was not available for comment.
Rumors that a sale of Laurel was imminent have persisted in Maryland's racing community for the past four or five months, although there was some skepticism yesterday that the essentials of a deal actually had been worked out.
"I don't know any Baltimore group that would be crazy enough to take it because it's a losing proposition," said Ben Cohen, one of the owners of Pimlico Race Course. "If he (Schapiro) didn't sign the papers before he left (for Europe), then I wouldn't say there was a deal. He's not giving it away. If he was giving it away, I'd take it just to play with it."
Fendall Clagett, president of the Maryland Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said he understood there was a deal in the works for the sale of Laurel. "In the interests of Maryland racing, I would rather not talk about it," said Clagett. "I'm rather hopeful that the deal will go through, but I am afraid it might be jeopardized if I talk about it."
Legislation that would have consolidated Maryland thoroughbred racing at Laurel and Pimlico, eliminating racing at Bowie and Timonium, was proposed by Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes at last winter's session of the Maryland legislature.
Had the bill passed, it would have greatly enhanced Laurel's value, but the measure failed. Since then, rumors have persisted that the Laurel track, which lost $485,000 last year, would be sold. Some figures in the Maryland racing community have speculated that failure of the consolidation bill meant the track would be difficult to sell.
It is estimated that the track would sell for between $10 million and $12 million.
Alan Foreman, an assistant attorney general who represents the Maryland Racing Commission, said no one had contacted his office about a sale of the track. The racing commission has the authority to veto any prospective purchaser.
"I would think that a contract would have to be contingent on government approval," said Foreman. "We would have to scrutinize the individuals involved."