American Pharoah knows how to weather a storm -- it was he, after all, who won the Preakness in the driving rain. But as the Triple Crown hopeful gallops toward a shot at history Saturday, it's his owner, Ahmed Zayat, who's had the biggest storm to weather in the form of two federal lawsuits.
The first one was a breach of contract suit filed by Howard Rubinsky in March 2014. In the suit, according to multiple reports, Rubinsky says that in 2003 he opened a line of credit for Zayat at a sportsbook in Costa Rica called Tradewinds.
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Rubinsky claims that Zayat ran up a $2-million debt and repaid only portions of it, owing Rubinsky $1.65 million, according to court documents. The last payment, according to the documents, was made in 2008.
On Monday, Zayat was the subject of a $10-million libel suit, alleging that he made false and malicious claims against J. Joseph Bainton, a New York attorney representing Rubinsky.
That lawsuit states that Zayat made libelous statements while defending himself to media outlets regarding the original suit.
Tuesday afternoon at Belmont, Zayat spoke of the legal woes.
"I think it's sad that, if I'm being a celebrity for 11 days, that people will come out of their way to try to rob you of this moment and to cast what [are] unbelievable lies, from A to Z," Zayat said before American Pharoah arrived at Belmont Park. "It really saddens me because this is the moment where we should be enjoying it as family, and frankly speaking, it's not about me, it's about the horse."
Last month, Zayat asked a federal judge to dismiss the original case because the six-year statute of limitations had passed, and because there was no physical contract, according to multiple published reports. There has yet to be a ruling on that case.
He also was quoted by The Associated Press saying that the original lawsuit was "a fraud. It's a scam from A to Z. It's total fiction. It's a total lie. It is a case of blackmail by a criminal."
In his libel lawsuit, Bainton took exception to these comments and others, calling them defamatory lies.
"I'm not a fake person," Zayat said. "I'm a real guy . . . This is about American Pharoah and we are here to celebrate American Pharoah, and to have this distraction, it saddens me."
The legal issues are a concern, but in a week as big as this -- American Pharoah could be the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years -- Zayat is focusing on his 3-year-old.
"This horse is scary in the way he moves. He literally floats over the ground. His stride level is insane," Zayat said. "It's an unbelievable honor . . . I'm nervous, but nervous, not scared. It's nervous good. It's nervous with excitement."