Judge rejects sale of Curlin

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Ownership of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin remained divided Monday after a judge's surprise ruling rejecting a proposed sale that would have consolidated control of the horse under winemaker Jess Jackson.

Jackson's Stonestreet Stables owns 80 percent of the richest North American racehorse in history and had offered $4 million to buy out the remaining 20 percent interest from William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr. The two disbarred attorneys are under a court order to pay $42 million to former clients they represented in a settlement over the diet drug fen-phen.

Although a court-appointed receiver recommended the transaction be approved, an attorney for Gallion and Cunningham argued $4 million was too low of a price for a share of such a promising stallion prospect. Circuit Judge Roger Crittenden agreed to disallow it after hearing the same plea from Angela Ford, who represents the fen-phen clients in their civil case against Gallion and Cunningham.

"The plaintiffs have objected to the process and the defendants have objected to the process, so I am ending the process," Crittenden said.

That means Curlin's ownership likely will remain split when he stands as a stallion next year at Lane's End Farm, collecting a $75,000 stud fee. Jackson announced last week that he had picked the Versailles, Ky., farm owned by Will Farish, a former U.S. ambassador to Britain, as the horse's new home.

Although Crittenden said there was no further need for the court to be involved in the dispute, he said he believed the horse's $20 million appraised price was fair. Andre Regard, a lawyer for Cunningham and Gallion, said another expert was prepared to testify that the horse is worth nearly twice as much.

Regard said he was satisfied with the judge's ruling, but Jackson's lawyer, Richard Getty, said he had made a mistake.

"If they are not smart enough to figure out this is a very, very good deal given this market condition and this deal and what we're faced with, I feel sorry for them in a way," Getty said.

Bickering between the attorneys continued even after court was adjourned. While the two were talking with reporters, Regard mockingly told Getty that his clients were willing to buy out Jackson's majority share at that bargain price.

"Andre, get off your grandstand," Getty responded. "You really did your clients a disservice."

After the exchange, Sylvius von Saucken, an attorney for the court-appointed receiver handling the disbursement of Gallion and Cunningham's assets, said his job was largely finished concerning the horse -- at least until a future sale possibility emerges.

The court proceeding made strange bedfellows considering Ford was essentially taking the same side as the former lawyers her fen-phen clients accused of defrauding. She requested to see detailed financial information from Stonestreet, but Crittenden later dismissed that request as moot after throwing out the case.

"I think the valuation is extremely low, and it's something we have to contest," Ford said.

Curlin has won 11 of 16 career starts, plus a pair of second- and third-place finishes. The only time he finished out of the money was his fourth-place finish last month in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, which he was attempting to win for the second straight year.

Curlin's career includes wins at the Preakness Stakes, Jockey Club Classic, Stephen Foster Handicap and Dubai World Cup. His winnings of $10.5 million have passed Cigar to make him North America's richest racehorse in history.