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Ellison ready for last America's Cup court faceoff

Dec. 09, 2008, 7:40 p.m. (ET)

SAN DIEGO(AP) Unable to resolve a bitter spat with a fellow billionaire sailor, Silicon Valley maverick Larry Ellison said he's content to let a New York court have the final say in a case that could have a dramatic impact on the America's Cup.

Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle Corp., said on Tuesday that his sailing team, BMW Oracle Racing, will ignore Monday's entry deadline for the regatta that two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland hopes to hold in 2010.

Instead, BMW Oracle Racing and its sponsor, San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club, will await the outcome of their last-chance appeal that will be heard by the New York State Court of Appeals early next year. If GGYC wins, it's likely the Americans and Swiss would meet in a rare one-on-one showdown in giant multihulls.

“There's no chance we will agree to the set of rules that Alinghi currently has on the table. No way,” Ellison told The Associated Press by phone from the Canary Islands, where he's sailing in a regatta with Russell Coutts, the CEO and skipper of BMW Oracle Racing and one of the most dominant skippers in America's Cup history.

“This is what's really funny - they want us to agree to this set of rules, but they won't tell us what the rules are, which is typical of Ernesto,” Ellison said, referring to Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli. “It's crazy.”

Ellison and Bertarelli both sail aboard the America's Cup boats they own and once were good friends. They've been locked in a court fight for more than a year concerning the rules for the next America's Cup. Shortly after Alinghi retained the oldest trophy in international sports by beating Team New Zealand in July 2007, BMW Oracle Racing said the Swiss were stacking the rules for the next regatta in their favor.

GGYC fought to become Challenger of Record, giving it the right to help Alinghi set the rules for the next Cup. The New York State Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that GGYC was the Challenger of Record, not a Spanish yacht club chosen by Alinghi and its backing club, Societe Nautique de Geneve. But in a surprise reversal in late July, the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division ruled 3-2 that the Spanish yacht club, not GGYC, should be the Challenger of Record. GGYC contends that the Spanish club is a sham.

The San Francisco yacht club's final chance rests with the New York State Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 10.

The feuding billionaires met in San Francisco in late September and were to meet again in Italy, but a second meeting never took place. Ellison said it's pointless to try to talk more.

“We have a very simple position - go back to the same rules we raced under last time, and we drop our lawsuit and we're in. What could be simpler than that? And his answer has always been 'No.' “

Coutts recently said BMW Oracle Racing would drop the lawsuit if it agreed with the rules currently being drafted, but was never sent any documents to review.

Ellison said his relationship with Bertarelli “had been great up until he published those rules. I remember asking him, 'Ernesto, why are you doing this?' And he said to me, 'Wouldn't you want a set of rules like this if you could get them?' To which I said, 'No. Stealing the Cup wouldn't give me a lot of pleasure.'

“I don't understand why he would publish a set of rules that would allow him to basically steal the next Cup,” Ellison said. “I don't know how he could get any satisfaction. I mean, Alinghi has won the Cup on the water, legitimately, once with Russell and once without. And he should be very proud of that. I think this strange set of rules is a tremendous mistake. I can't imagine he feels terribly good about where things have gone as a result of it.”

Coutts sailed unbeaten through three straight America's Cup matches, the first two with Team New Zealand before jumping ship and leading Bertarelli's startup syndicate to victory over his former mates in 2003.

Coutts had a falling out with Bertarelli, a biotech tycoon, and was fired the following year.

“Two things are true - I think he doesn't like Russell; the second is Russell Coutts is the greatest sailor in the world and he doesn't like his chances against Russell,” Ellison said.

An Alinghi spokesman said the syndicate had no comment.

Ellison is confident the GGYC will win its appeal. If GGYC wins and can't come to terms with Alinghi for a traditional multichallenger regatta in monohulls, they'll face off for the America's Cup in giant multihulls.

BMW Oracle Racing has been testing its 90-foot (27-meter) trimaran on the Pacific Ocean off San Diego. Ellison said the feeling of steering the boat “moves from exhilarating to terrifying.”

“She's ungodly fast,” Ellison said. “Alinghi, they're building a huge catamaran that's even longer than our trimaran. It should be quite a spectacle of extreme sailing.”

It would be the kind of grudge match even landlubbers would watch, Ellison said.

“More people than just the sailing community would be interested in watching these floating pieces of extreme engineering going 2 1/2-to-3 times the speed of the wind,” he said. “They're just remarkable.”