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The lengthy legal tussle between America’s Cup sailing teams BMW Oracle Racing and Alinghi over who has the right to challenge Alinghi for the next Cup appears to have taken a decisive tack in BMW Oracle's favor.

On Thursday, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that BMW Oracle, the American-based syndicate that represents Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco, should be restored as challenger of record for the oldest major trophy in international sport.

The verdict, a unanimous 6-0 decision, overturned a ruling last year that would have allowed the Spanish-based Club Nautico Español de Vela, or CNEV, to remain Alinghi's primary challenger.

The decision opens the way for an unconventional Cup at some stage in the next year in which BMW Oracle and Alinghi could face each other in a best-of-three regatta in massive, new-age catamarans. But there is also the possibility that Alinghi’s owner, Ernesto Bertarelli, and Larry Ellison, his counterpart at BMW Oracle, could, with the legal situation resolved, resume negotiations and agree on terms for a conventional multi-challenger regatta to be staged in 2010 or 2011.

Reached by e-mail, Bertarelli initially declined to comment. In an interview in December prior to the verdict, he indicated that he was unlikely to pursue further legal action if this appeal — in New York’s highest court — went against his team.

Jane Eagleson, a spokeswoman for BMW Oracle, said, “We’re obviously pleased with the court decision today, and we’re carefully studying the decision and expect to have further comment in the next few days.”

Rapprochement has proved elusive between Bertarelli and Ellison, both of whom sail on their yachts during competition. They were once on friendly terms but have been transformed into bitter rivals off the water by the 21-month dispute over the terms of the next Cup. The court battle has forced other would-be challengers to disband or drastically reduce their payrolls while they waited for clarity.


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