Joe De Francis, the controlling owner of Laurel Race Course, reportedly declined to sell his stock in the racetrack following an $8 million offer from a group led by harness racing magnate Lou Guida.

Guida, probably the most prominent standardbred owner in the United States, said De Francis formally rejected the group's bid to acquire all classes of the stock De Francis inherited from his father, Frank De Francis. The offer was submitted Feb. 8.

De Francis was not at the racetrack yesterday, and neither he nor track attorney Martin Jacobs could be reached for comment.

Guida owns 50 percent of the equity in Laurel but as a limited partner has no voting stock. He is not involved with Pimlico Race Course, which is owned primarily by De Francis and Tom and Bob Manfuso.

In attempting to buy out De Francis, Guida and about eight other investors sought De Francis's 20 percent equity position in the limited partnership and his approximately 60 percent of the voting stock in Laurel Racing Associations, Inc., the general partnership.

In theory, the Guida group would have gained financial control of Laurel had its offer been accepted. However, track vice chairman Tom Manfuso said he and Bob Manfuso have a right-of-refusal clause in their contracts that would have allowed them to match Guida's offer.

Guida was among the original investors when Frank De Francis headed the purchase of Laurel and Bowie for $16 million in 1984. According to sources, Guida became less willing to retain his stake following Frank De Francis's death in 1989 and the Manfusos' withdrawal from day-to-day management last year. When he was unable to sell his shares, Guida changed course by attempting to gain control of the racetrack, the sources said.

According to Guida, the possibilities are "excellent" that further negotiations will take place.

A former vice president of Merrill Lynch, Guida has had sole or shared ownership of 10 Breeders Crown winners and has raced such champions as Niatross and Nihilator.