The simmering dispute that took some of the joy out of Azeri's Horse of the Year announcement at the 32nd annual Eclipse Awards dinner has been settled.
A Feb. 3 press release from Barretts Equine Limited, the Southern California sale company that was scheduled to sell Azeri and other horses owned by the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, said all of the horses were being withdrawn "after the relevant parties had reached a resolution of a dispute related to the disposition of the trust's remaining bloodstock." The court-ordered dispersal had been scheduled to coincide with the March 4 Barretts sale of 2-year-olds in training.
Jerry McMahon, president of Barretts, said in a statement: "We regret any inconvenience this may have caused our customers."
The principal parties in the dispute were Madeleine Paulson, the widow of Allen Paulson, who died in July 2002, and the multiple Eclipse Award-winning owner and breeder's three sons from a previous marriage, Michael, Richard, and Jim.
According to both Madeleine and Michael Paulson, the horses that raced in the name of the Paulson Living Trust will continue to be owned by the three brothers, as will the breeding stock that transferred to the trust, including the stallions Theatrical and Jade Hunter. Madeleine Paulson will retain other assets owned by her late husband, including the Del Mar Country Club.
"I'm very happy with the settlement," Madeleine Paulson said, "and am relieved this is all behind us. It's good that Allen's sons want to remain in the horse business. I hope they have as much luck as their father did."
Madeleine Paulson will continue to operate her own racing and breeding stable, which numbers some 60 head.
"We are pleased and it was an amicable settlement," Michael Paulson said. "I will be the sole trustee of the trust and plan to continue the racing operation for the forseeable future. I'm not going to look back. It's part of my father's legacy to look forward, and that's what I'll do. We plan to continue the successful operation that's been established.
"Of the businesses I've been involved in, there's been nothing like racing," he added. "It's infectious, and I love the people involved in it. Everyone's heart is really in it."
Michael Paulson said the settlement is subject fo final court approval, which "we don't see as a problem." Paulson said he hopes that approval will come within 30 days.
Until then, he said, Azeri will remain in light training at San Luis Rey Downs, where she is stabled with Laura de Seroux, who became the first woman to train a North American Horse of the Year.
One week earlier, at the Jan. 27 Eclipse Awards, Michael Paulson called it a "bittersweet" moment for him when Azeri received racing's top honor. He also pledged that he and his brothers would do everything they could to buy Azeri at the dispersal and put her back in serious training. "She will return, and when she does I'm sure she'll be at championship form," he said.
Azeri has won 10 of 11 career starts and rolled to seven consecutive stakes victories in 2002, culminating with a five-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I). She became the first female Horse of the Year since Lady's Secret in 1986.