The sale of controlling interest in Maryland's thoroughbred racetracks received a final regulatory approval yesterday as the Virginia Racing Commission voted unanimously to support the purchase by Canadian-based racing conglomerate Magna Entertainment.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which owns and operates Laurel Park and Pimlico, needed the Virginia commission's approval because the $50.6 million sale includes a management contract to operate Colonial Downs in New Kent County through April 21, 2046.

Magna president and chief executive Jim McAlpine asked the commission to approve the sale at its monthly meeting in Richmond. The commission also granted Magna the right to acquire an indirect minority interest in the operations license for Maryland-Virginia Racing Circuit Inc., which manages Colonial Downs and Virginia off-track betting facilities.

The Maryland Racing Commission approved the transaction Nov. 13.

The Virginia Racing Commission also approved a 30-day live thoroughbred meet that will run from June 13 through July 22. . . .

Thunderello, the 3-year-old colt who pulled up mid-race after going off as the favorite in the Grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on Saturday at Laurel Park, likely will be retired, trainer Scott Lake told the Daily Racing Form.

The colt fractured the splint bone in his left foreleg and chipped a sesamoid bone.

Obituary

Olympic Medalist Dies

Kim Gallagher, a middle-distance runner who overcame illness to win medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games, has died. She was 38.

Gallagher died of a stroke Monday at a hospital in Philadelphia. She was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1995 and suffered the first of two strokes in August.

Gallagher had surgery on her ovaries about six months before winning a silver medal in the 800-meter run in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Gallagher also won bronze in the 800 at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. . . .

Prince Alexandre de Merode, who led the Olympic fight against drugs for four decades, died at 68.

The International Olympic Committee said de Merode, a Belgian, died Tuesday night in a Brussels hospital. While the cause of death was not disclosed, he was known to have had lung cancer. . . .

Two Venezuelan rowers were missing and presumed drowned after their scull flipped over in high winds in Lago Coatepeque, El Salvador, during training for the Central American and Caribbean Games.

The missing rowers were identified as Miguel Vargas and Alexis Coba.

Pro Hockey

Sabres Find Suitor

Buffalo businessman Mark Hamister has been selected by the NHL to purchase the financially troubled Buffalo Sabres.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the closing should take place in the first quarter of 2003.

The proposed transaction is conditional and approval by the NHL Board of Governors is required.

Boxing

Tyson Set to Return

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson is scheduled to return to the ring Feb. 22, when he will face Clifford Etienne in Memphis. It will be the first fight for Tyson (49-4) since he lost his bid to recapture the undisputed title to Lennox Lewis in June. Etienne is 24-1-1. . . .

Former WBA super welterweight champion Fernando Vargas was suspended for nine months and fined $100,000 after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. . . .

The D.C. Boxing Hall of Fame's annual banquet will be held Friday night at Martin's Cross Winds in Greenbelt. Among those scheduled to be inducted in the pro division are former contenders Curtis Peoples and Jemal Hinton.

In addition, Maxell Taylor, nationally ranked in Golden Gloves as a 147-pounder, will be honored as outstanding amateur.