06/17/2004 11:00PM

Fair Grounds bidder named

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Churchill Downs Inc. was named as the stalking-horse bidder in a bankruptcy court motion filed Thursday over the proposed auction of Fair Grounds Race Course, according to Douglas Draper, an attorney representing Fair Grounds.

The filing confirms Churchill's position as a central player in the ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization of Fair Grounds, though no details of the bid have been made public.

Draper, a bankruptcy attorney, filed the motion, which is a request for an extension of Fair Grounds's exclusive right to file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan.

The exclusivity agreement would give Fair Grounds the sole right to file a bankruptcy plan on its behalf. In the absence of an exclusivity agreement, a creditor could file its own reorganization plan for Fair Grounds, which declared bankruptcy last spring.

Fair Grounds owes the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association almost $90 million for what the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled were improper deductions from video poker machines.

Thursday's request, which will be heard by a judge on July 2, asks the court to extend the exclusivity agreement to Aug. 16, the proposed date for an auction of Fair Grounds in bankruptcy court.

According to Thursday's filing, the purchase agreement with Churchill "will form the basis of an auction" that will be conducted through bankruptcy court. Churchill would have a chance to raise its offer if a higher bid for Fair Grounds is entered in court.

Churchill, which lacks a major winter simulcast signal, sought to acquire Fair Grounds last winter and at one point reached an agreement with the Louisiana horsemen to acquire the Fair Grounds debt. The details of the bid to purchase the assets of Fair Grounds are still being negotiated, Draper said.