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Hutchinson on verge of winning Medcup

Not so much winding up a series as hammering daily nails into the coffins of his rivals' hopes, Terry Hutchinson has the Audi Medcup series by the throat as it enters its last 2008 days in southern Portugal. His TP52, Quantum, has improved throughout the six-regatta series and really began to take charge during the third, at Cagliari, Sardinia, at the end of June.

The man from Annapolis, Maryland, with a crew that is nearly all American or US-based, was not enjoying the best of fortunes on the water yesterday. His sixth in the first of two races sailed in light and shifty southerly winds yielded only a sixth and in the second he was 10th.

This meant that Spain's Desafio, with Paul Cayard back at the helm, took the overall lead in the Portugal Trophy regatta, with the Argentinian yacht Matador second and Quantum third. But Quantum still leads the series, in which every race counts, overall and it will take a catastrophe between now and Saturday to dislodge them. Invitations have been winging their way around the world to a three-weekend regatta in Auckland next January and February that would bring back up to eight of the previous contenders for the Louis Vuitton Cup, that vital stepping stone to challenging for the America's Cup.

Team New Zealand will provide two boats for the match racing and take part themselves, but it is not yet clear if Britain's Team Origin will send a crew down. Italy's Mascalzone Latino, headed by Vincenzo Onorato, will be there. His compatriot Patrizio Bertelli, boss of Prada, has yet to respond, but is thought to be tempted.

It is unlikely that the current cup holder and former Louis Vuitton Cup winner, Ernesto Bertarelli, would take his Alinghi team, even though it is skippered by a Kiwi, Brad Buttwerworth. Relations LV and Alinghi are not always cordial.

More likely is that another Aucklander, Russell Coutts, ceo and skipper of BMW Racing, another group at loggerheads with Alinghi, will take up the call to arms.