Italian slump hands lead to Cayard

Patrizio Bertelli, head of both the Prada fashion house and the Italian team's America's Cup challenge syndicate which bears its name, must be wondering if he made the right decision to fly from Milan to watch his team race on the Hauraki Gulf.

Patrizio Bertelli, head of both the Prada fashion house and the Italian team's America's Cup challenge syndicate which bears its name, must be wondering if he made the right decision to fly from Milan to watch his team race on the Hauraki Gulf.

Since he arrived they have lost both their races, something they had done only once previously in 23 races since the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination trials began in October. Even then it was freak weather which turned their race against Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes inside out.

The wind was again in fickle form yesterday, but not before the unbeaten new Japanese boat, Idaten - named after a six-faced, 12-armed Indian god which rescued the ashes of Buddha - had shown nimble manoeuvrability to win pre-start advantage and then searing pace to establish a lead of over two minutes at the first mark.

The Nippon Challenge skipper, Peter Gilmour, then saw his rival Francesco de Angelis claw back most of the deficit as the wind turned a little streaky on the first spinnaker run, only for Gilmour to race away again. The wind then died, but Gilmour managed to keep moving and when it clicked back in at about 14 knots, roared away to an impressive win. As Paul Cayard was giving the Spanish similar treatment, his AmericaOne took the overall lead and the Italians dropped two places to third as Nippon moved up to second.

De Angelis said afterwards that other teams had had to deal with problems and now it was their turn. But the overall view, that the Japanese have come up with something special, remains prevalent and all eyes will be on Cayard's new boat when it makes its first appearance in the semi-final double round robin in January.

Today Conner, stern bulkhead repaired, is back in action against Ed Baird in the New York Yacht Club's Young America while Dawn Riley's America True and Young Australia replay their abandoned race. Baird's tussle with the French - also abandoned - has been put back to next Tuesday.

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