06/18/2003 11:00PM

Magna and Maryland at odds

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The Maryland Racing Commission and the owners of Pimlico and Laurel Park could be headed toward a bitter showdown over upgrades at the aged, rundown facilities.

At the commission's monthly meeting on Wednesday at Laurel, commissioners clashed with representatives of Magna Entertainment Corp., majority owners of the Maryland Jockey Club, over several aspects of Magna's $46 million plan for refurbishing Laurel Park.

The conflict centers on Magna's agreement with the racing commission to spend $15 million on track improvements. The first $5 million of that is to be spent by Aug. 31.

Commissioners expressed doubt that Magna would uphold its end of the bargain and spend the money on tangible improvements by that date.

"I'm getting somewhat concerned that instead of making progress, things may have been going the other way for us," commissioner Terry Saxon said.

At last month's commission meeting, Jim McAlpine, president of Magna, acknowledged that Magna could not move fast enough on that plan to spend the initial $5 million by the end of August. He agreed, however, to put whatever money falls short of $5 million into an escrow account to be spent later.

Before Wednesday's meeting, Magna's lawyers submitted a document to the commission that McAlpine apparently believed resolved the escrow issue. Commissioners reacted angrily, saying the document wasn't an escrow-account agreement but rather an addendum to an earlier agreement that would undermine commission authority.

"That's kind of a slap in the face," Saxon said after the meeting.