09/05/2007 11:00PM

Ohio horsemen may try to buy Thistledown

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Several groups of horsemen have expressed an interest in buying Thistledown racetrack near Cleveland from the track's parent company, Magna Entertainment, according to the head of the Ohio horsemen's group.

According to Dave Basler, the executive director of the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the groups have made only informal inquiries of Magna, which announced on Wednesday that it was seeking to sell both Thistledown and Portland Meadows in Oregon. Magna, which has lost $325 million over the past three years, cited ongoing losses at the tracks as its reasons for putting the properties on the block.

Basler would not identify any of the groups that have made the inquiries, but he said that part of the reason that the groups have not gone further in their evaluation of the racetrack was because of problems in getting financial information from Magna.

"They're all in the initial stages," Basler said. "It's been extremely tough to get financial data from Magna, because they're a publicly traded company and you have to go through all these layers just to get an income statement."

Magna officials did not return phone calls on Wednesday.

In August, Magna said that it would conduct a review of its assets in order to address the company's mounting financial losses and $500 million in debt. The company owns a dozen racetracks, including Santa Anita Park in Southern California, Gulfstream Park in Florida, Lone Star Park in Texas, and Laurel Park and Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland.

According to a release from the company, Thistledown lost $4.5 million in 2006, although $3.1 million of that total was due to expenses from an unsuccessful campaign to convince voters to legalize slot machines at Ohio tracks. The referendum, held last November, was soundly defeated.

Magna told horsemen earlier this year that it would seek only 91 racing dates next year for Thistledown, down from 187 in 2005, 156 last year, and a scheduled 136 this year. Under Ohio law, Thistledown is not allowed to run fewer than 155 days without a broad agreement between all racing interests in the state, as was reached for this year.

Basler said that horsemen would not accept any further reduction in racing dates, contending that trainers were having a hard time making ends meet under the current schedule.

"We can't continue to take cuts at the rate they're going," Basler said. "We're already at the point of having trouble at 136 days."