03/18/2002 12:00AM

MJC posts $1.5M profit

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The Maryland Jockey Club, the owners and operators of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, had a profit of $1.5 million in 2001, according to financial statements filed with the Maryland Racing Commission.

The 2001 result was nearly double the profits posted by the MJC in 2000, when net income was $671,000. Joe De Francis, the chairman of the MJC, attributed the gain to record-setting wagering and attendance figures for the 2001 Preakness and cost-cutting at the MJC's racetracks.

Pimlico, the home of the Preakness, was solely accountable for the profits, netting $3.88 million for the year, according to the financial statements. Laurel, on the other hand, lost $2.38 million in 2001, on nearly $1 million less in racing revenue compared with 2000.

The results were somewhat surprising considering the problems the MJC encountered last year. Most notably, the industry lost a $10 million purse subsidy that forced the MJC to cut 22 stakes races and sent many trainers and owners after the blossoming purses at tracks in Delaware and West Virginia.

Help may be on the horizon in 2002, at least for horsemen. On Monday, the Maryland Senate passed a general budget that would divert $4.5 million from a racetrack capital improvement fund to purses. The budget still has to be passed by the state's House of Delegates.

Last week, Gov. Parris Glendening had suggested that the capital-improvement money be used to shore up the state's general fund, which is expected to be short $250 million this year.

"That was an unanticipated development, and we're hopeful the House will pass the bill as well," said De Francis, who has an uneasy relationship with Glendening. "That money belongs to the industry, and hopefully it can stay in the industry."