America's Cup: Emirates Team New Zealand take commanding lead

Kiwis now have six of the nine wins they need to claim the 1851 trophy for the first time in 10 years

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The Independent Online

Rocky, Top Gun, and John Wayne combined will be needed to dig devastated America's Cup defender Oracle Team USA out of the fiery pit into which they have been consigned by the rampant challenge from Emirates Team New Zealand.

The Kiwis went six to one up, in reality still minus one because of penalties, on their drive towards the nine wins they need to take the 1851 trophy home again after an absence of 10 years.

Such was the confidence of the silver fern team that in race seven, the second of the day, they could afford to play the fastest way up the track on San Francisco Bay instead of concentrating just on racing the opposition.

The defenders had exited the contest after race five to “regroup”, fired their tactician John Kostecki, whose home waters these are, and replaced him with Britain's all-time greatest sailing Olympian, the recently knighted Ben Ainslie. That left just one American in the 11-man Oracle crew, Rome Kirby.

But the Kiwis even won the start of the second race, “very happy” skipper Dean Barker sliding over the top of his Australian-born rival Jimmy Spithill, rounding the first mark two seconds ahead, extending that to seven at the bottom of the course, and then turning the knife with an extra 49 seconds on leg three.

At a net 56 seconds and over a kilometre ahead, Spithill and Ainslie, plus Australian strategist Tom Slingsby, became understudies in a command performance which may not have long to run. At the finish it was one minute and six seconds.

The New Zealanders need just three more wins, there are four races scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, and the “Auld Mug” could be back in its showcase at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland by next weekend.

The first race had almost gone to script. Spithill was sharper on the start after Barker had tried to push him with a singular lack of success, took the lead at the first mark by nine seconds and stretched that to 12 seconds at the bottom of the course.

The Kiwis had been looking for a chance to split away, took it when offered at the start of the upwind work on leg three and there was little that Oracle could then do.

Ainslie was not in a position to dictate the tactics, many recalling a mantra attributed nearly half a century ago to sailmaker Ted Hood - “boat speed makes you a tactical genius.” TNZ had the speed and just carved relentlessly into Oracle's lead.

From a 12-second deficit TNZ built a 44-second advantage at the top of the course in the shadow of Golden Gate Bridge.

The net gain of 46 seconds was just too big a task for Oracle, which finally crossed the line 47 seconds astern.

“They have some wheels and a half,” said Spithill afterwards, adding: “Ben did a great job.”

His tactical counterpart Ray Davies said: “We got a split at the bottom, which was pretty important. Then we enjoyed little gains in wind pressure and little gains in the tacks.”