09/19/2002 12:00AM

Magna bids to buy Rosecroft harness


NEW YORK - Magna Entertainment, which reached a deal in July to buy a majority interest in the Maryland Jockey Club's two tracks, has entered a bidding war with two other racing-related companies to buy Rosecroft Raceway, a struggling harness track in Maryland.

Magna's bid was submitted on Wednesday to Rosecroft's board of directors, a collection of harness owners, trainers, and breeders who purchased the track in 1995. Also submitting bids were Centaur Racing, the minority partner in Hoosier Park, and Greenwood Racing, the owner of Philadelphia Park.

After reviewing the bids, Rosecroft's board voted to review the offers over the next 30 days and accept one by Oct. 17, The Baltimore Sun reported on Thursday.

The Sun reported that Tom Chuckas Jr., Rosecroft's chief operating officer, said the bids were $68 million by Magna, $49 million by Greenwood, and $47 million by Centaur. But one racing official involved in the bidding process disputed those values.

"Those valuations are highly selective, and it grossly misrepresents the offers they received," the official said.

Magna officials said on Thursday that they would have no comment on the deal. Representatives of Rosecroft did not return phone calls Thursday. Officials of Greenwood Racing declined comment, citing confidentiality clauses related to the bidding.

One racing official said the bids all included a $10 million cash offer to pay off Rosecroft's debts and liabilities. The remaining value of the bids was a series of annual purse supplements over a fixed number of years, the official said, that would boost Rosecroft's purse distribution well above the current level of $50,000 a day.

Rosecroft Raceway is in Fort Washington, just south of Washington. The track is currently open three nights a week for live racing and seven days a week for simulcasting.

When the current ownership group, Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners and Breeders Association, bought the track in 1995, Rosecroft was on the verge of bankruptcy. Since then, the track has continued to struggle, losing horses and market share to Delaware's Dover Downs, where gambling machines have been legal since 1994.

Standardbred and Thoroughbred interests have historically clashed in Maryland. In 2000, the two industries reached an agreement to split simulcasting revenues in the state on an 80-20 basis - with Thoroughbreds getting the greater share - but Standardbred supporters have been trying to back out of that agreement since earlier this year, calling it unfair.

According to figures from the Maryland Racing Commission, betting on Rosecroft's races fell from $14.3 million in 2000 to $11.6 million in 2001.

Magna owns 10 racetracks and has deals to purchase four others, including the deal to buy shares in Pimlico and Laurel Park for $69 million.

The bidding for Rosecroft is being driven by the possibility of slot machines at Maryland tracks. The current governor, Parris Glendening, is anti-slots but will leave office in November, and many in the racing industry are hopeful that he will be replaced by Republican Robert Ehrlich, who supports slots at tracks. Ehrlich's opponent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, has said that she opposes the machines.