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Paulson Says Claim Not Valid

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Times Staff Writer

Michael Paulson thought he would be fielding questions these days about whether Azeri is going to be crowned horse of the year Monday night at a Beverly Hills hotel. Instead, Paulson is responding to a lawsuit, filed in Kentucky last week, which suggests that Azeri has been winning all these races -- including last October’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff -- while racing for a silent partner.

“It’s bizarre,” Paulson said. “It’s a frivolous suit and we’ll defend it vigorously.”

Paulson was referring to legal action taken by Dave Lambert, a veterinarian from Midway, Ky., who claims that he owns 50% of Azeri. Half of Azeri amounts to a mountain of cash: She has won $2.2 million in purses and, when she’s sold at auction at a Barretts sale in Pomona in March, the 5-year-old mare should drive the bidding well into the seven-figure range. One guess is that Azeri will bring more than $3.5 million.

In his suit, Lambert says that Allen Paulson, Michael Paulson’s father, promised him a 50% interest in Azeri and Startac. Tenth in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, Startac has become a Grade I winner on grass and earned almost $700,000.

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Allen Paulson died in July 2000, before Azeri and Startac had ever run a race. A suit filed by Madeline Paulson, his widow, against Michael Paulson became moot in December when the co-trustees of the estate agreed to sell the horses in four stages.

“I find it interesting that this man [Lambert] comes along, almost 2 1/2 years to the day of my father’s death, with this claim,” Michael Paulson said. “I also find it interesting that he files in a Kentucky court, when my father’s living trust and [Azeri] are in California.”

Azeri has remained with her trainer, Laura de Seroux, at San Luis Rey Downs and can’t run before she’s sold. Whether she will continue to race after the sale will be determined by her new owner.

Meantime, Azeri is favored to become the first female horse of the year since Lady’s Secret in 1986. Posthumously, Allen Paulson could be named breeder of the year, an award he won in 1993. Paulson bred and raced Cigar, who was voted horse of the year in 1995 and 1996. Paulson won Eclipse awards for owner both years.

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The Oak Tree Racing Assn.’s attempt to add two racing days to the start of its Breeders’ Cup meet next fall has run aground and Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the group that leases Santa Anita, said Thursday that he would settle for one day.

Oak Tree, which will host the Breeders’ Cup -- eight races worth $13 million -- on Oct. 25, is scheduled to open its season Oct. 1. Chillingworth wanted to open on the weekend days of Sept. 27-28, when the track could run four Breeders’ Cup prep races that would be televised nationally by ESPN. But Sept. 27-28 overlaps with the final two days of the Los Angeles County Fair meet at nearby Fairplex Park in Pomona, and Chillingworth, following lengthy negotiations with Fairplex officials, realizes that to fully indemnify Fairplex for lost business would strain Oak Tree’s budget.

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At a California Horse Racing Board meeting in Monrovia, Chillingworth said that to satisfy Fairplex for both days would cost Oak Tree between $700,000 and $1 million. If Oak Tree added only one day -- Sunday, Sept. 28 -- it would run the Yellow Ribbon, the Oak Leaf, the Oak Tree Mile and the Lady’s Secret Handicap on the same card.

The racing board may mediate the negotiations between Oak Tree and Fairplex, which must be completed by Feb. 21 in order to meet an ESPN scheduling deadline.

“I think the chances of us getting just the one day are still very good,” Chillingworth said. “If we don’t run those stakes that weekend, the Eastern horses will stay back there and run in other preps. If we run our preps the weekend of Oct. 4-5, they would come too close to Breeders’ Cup day for many trainers.”

James Henwood, president of the Los Angeles County Fair, also spoke to the racing board.

“This is not fuzzy math that we’re dealing with,” Henwood said. “We’re talking about very specific numbers that relate to the realities of racing overlap. Usually an overlap situation is suicidal for the overlapping track.”

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