Larry Ellison's $10 million monster trimaran, designed to dominate the America's Cup race, may have been built in vain. Ellison and Swiss / Italian pharmaceuticals billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli have dragged a fight over the century-old race's rules into the courtroom. Even the New York Times has trouble explaining what the argument is about, so I've made you a briefing:Bertarelli created his own team, Team Alinghi, by raiding the hot Team New Zealand in 2000. Alinghi has easily won the two most recent America's Cup races. In response, Ellison's own BMW Oracle team built the trimaran. Now, Bertarelli wants to increase the allowed size of the boats and make the race an every-other-year event. Ellison's lawsuit, filed by the Golden Gate Yacht Club, seeks to replace the official challenger for the next race, the Spanish group Desafio Espanol, with BMW Oracle. The suit claims Desafio Espanol is an "invalid challenger" because it has not held a regatta in accordance with America's Cup regulations. Desafio Espanol claims a regatta it held in Spain does too qualify. An arbitration panel agreed with that last year. Bertarelli says he's trying to improve the race's popular appeal. Ellison says Bertarelli is trying to manipulate the rules to hold onto the cup against the threat of Ellison's new boat. The New York Supreme Court will hear the case in October. (Photo by Getty Images/AFP/Gilles Martin-Raget)
The America's Cup is the world's premier opportunity for the ultrariches to prove whose is bigger. But if you think the race has anything to do with sailing, you'd be mistaken — it's about who can muster the most capital. This year the victor could be rigged by lawyers, not sailors, thanks to a spat between billionaire software tycoon Larry Ellison and billionaire biotech tycoon Ernesto Bertarelli.