Conner's crew on way to a hiding

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Such is the disarray within the US defence of the America's Cup that, after having been hit left, right and centre by New Zealand in the first three races Dennis Conner said he thought his hope lay in light and flukey winds, in other words a lottery, while his helmsman, Paul Cayard, said he wanted big winds and big seas, which would mean a slugfest.

In moderate winds and big seas, light winds and flat seas, and fresh winds on flat seas, the Black Magic beat has never faltered. Russell Coutts has been able to play his own game, going 3-0 up with an inevitability that now makes the Las Vegas bookmakers in the Nevada desert, who were giving odds of 5-1 on, look a lot smarter than the pundits on the south California coast.

The whole package is beginning to look simple and flawless, a well-balanced hull and keel, a well-developed, beautifully-controlled mast carrying fast and powerfully shaped sails.

And people who can sail. For only a brief time in the third race, three tacks at the beginning, did Coutts and his crew become embroiled in a duel. Then the skipper broke off and sailed away. In 18 legs of three races Team New Zealand have gained against Young America on 15, one has been even, and on two runs Conner's crew has pulled back slightly, possibly when the Kiwis were easing back on the throttle. Conner and Cayard have never crossed ahead of TNZ.

Was it difficult to keep up the motivation? "It is difficult, but that's just the mental test,"Cayard said. "We've been doing that all spring. We're just scrambling on trying to find ways to go faster and faster every day. That's what we're here for, that's what we do for a living, trying to keep going faster and faster until someone says stop."

That may be in time for lunch on Sunday with his family if the final two races today and on Saturday go the way of the first three. In jest, Conner's tactician Tom Whidden said he liked the new rules which made the final a best of nine instead of seven and for the crews to swap boats every three races. "Don't you think you guys have swapped boats enough?" Coutts asked.

AMERICA'S CUP (San Diego) Race 3: Team New Zealand bt Team Dennis Connor, 1 min 51 sec. Team New Zealand lead best-of-nine series 3-0.