04/09/2003 11:00PM

Gill sues Delaware owner

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Michael Gill has filed a lawsuit claiming that trainers and officials at Delaware Park have conspired to bar his horses from the track this year.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in a federal court in New Hampshire, where Gill lives, charges that Delaware Park's racing secretary, Sam Abbey, and the track's owner, Bill Rickman, exploited complaints made by trainers about Gill's claiming practices to restrict competition at the track by barring him from its races. The suit asks the court to lift the ban and to award damages.

Gill also filed an additional suit on Wednesday claiming that he was defamed by Gulfstream Park and its general manager, Scott Savin, in a Sports Illustrated article in March. The lawsuit against Delaware Park officials also claims that Abbey defamed Gill.

Defendants named in the suit who were willing to comment disputed the charges. Two trainers, Allen Iwinski and Scott Lake, both called the allegations "lies."

Gill, who has been unsuccessful getting stalls at most major racetracks on the East Coast this spring despite a 270-horse racing stable, had vowed to sue Delaware Park in late March after the track told him his horses would not be allowed to enter Delaware's races. Gill has raced at Delaware Park for the past three years.

Gill has attracted criticism for his aggressive claiming tactics and controversial past, which includes a lengthy suspension for a medication violation in 1995. Gill estimated that he claimed at least 100 horses at Gulfstream this winter, where he set a record for wins during the meet.

The lawsuit states that Iwinski and Lake, who have been leading trainers at Delaware Park, complained about Gill in 2002 and told racing officials that they would not race at Delaware in 2003 if Gill was given stalls.

Lake vehemently disputed both charges. "Those are out-and-out lies, complete fabrications," Lake said.

Iwinski also denied both charges. "I can't believe this," Iwinski said. "I can't even get the stalls I need at Delaware Park, but I've got the power to tell the racing secretary not to give guys stalls? Come on."

The lawsuit said that Abbey threatened to bar Gill in 2002 on multiple occasions if Gill continued to claim horses. The lawsuit also states that Abbey told Gill that he would also put pressure on tracks in Pennsylvania and New York to deny Gill stalls in 2003.

Abbey was unavailable for comment on Thursday due to a respiratory illness, Delaware racing officials said. Rickman did not return a phone call. Bill Fasy, Delaware's general manager, said he would have no comment on the suit.

The Gulfstream suit states that Savin defamed Gill in a March 10 Sports Illustrated article by claiming that post-race drug tests on a horse owned by Gill were ongoing. The suit says that Savin knew that the tests had already been completed Feb. 21.

Savin did not return a phone call Thursday.

The tests were ordered after a horse owned by Gill broke down in early February at Gulfstream. Shortly after the horse was euthanized, a veterinarian employed by Gill removed one of the horse's legs without authorization from state officials, triggering an investigation. The investigation did not turn up any wrongdoing.