June 4 (Reuters) - The owner of American Pharoah, which on Saturday will try to become the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, has won the dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to force him to repay $1.65 million of gambling debts.
Ahmed Zayat, the owner, need not repay the money because the plaintiff Howard Rubinsky filed his March 2014 lawsuit after New Jersey’s six-year statute of limitations expired, U.S. District Judge William Martini in Newark said on Thursday.
In a tweet, the Egypt-born Zayat said: “There is a God. The God of justice & Truth. We have won the case.”
Joseph Bainton, a lawyer for Rubinsky, said his client will review the decision and assess his options.
Rubinsky claimed that Zayat lost more than $2 million on a credit line he had arranged in 2003 to gamble at Tradewinds, a Costa Rica-based sports betting site. The lawsuit sought to recoup sums that Zayat had not paid back.
But Zayat said the statute of limitations began to run in 2005 when Rubinsky hired a lawyer and investigator to recoup the alleged debts. Rubinsky countered that the clock began ticking in April 2008 when Zayat sent text messages promising repayment.
But the judge said these messages expressed only Zayat’s willingness to help Rubinsky, and that the messages also explicitly said “I am not obliged to pay anything” and “don’t owe a soul anythings.” Martini also said Zayat did nothing to stop Rubinsky from suing sooner.
“Under New Jersey law, an acknowledgement or promise to pay a debt will only restart the statute of limitations if it is unconditional and in a signed writing,” Martini wrote. “No reasonable jury could conclude that defendant made an unconditional promise to pay the alleged debt.”
A spokesman said the Zayat family is “very grateful for the court’s decision, which vindicates them.”
American Pharoah is favored to win the Belmont Stakes in New York, after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness last month. The Triple Crown was last won by Affirmed in 1978.
The case is Rubinsky v. Zayat, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 14-01540. (Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Christian Plumb)