Unbeaten Coutts breezes past Law

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The America's Cup was never far away when Russell Coutts, only the second man in its 145-year history to take it from the United States, was in such commanding form in the Royal Lymington Cup.

The first of five match-racing grands prix in the Brut series saw Coutts dispose of the world No 2, Australia's Peter Gilmour, and cruise unbeaten through the qualifying round-robin.

Coutts, back with a vengeance after winning with Team New Zealand last year, was then unbeaten against Denmark's Sten Mohr in the quarter-final, and unbeaten against the world No 1, America's Ed Baird, in the semi-final. As Gilmour seems almost certain to skipper the Japanese challenge for the America's Cup in 2000, and Baird, the coach to Team New Zealand, now wants to lead his own challenge to win it back, the under-current was impossible to overlook.

In Saturday's final Coutts, now resident most of the time in San Francisco, equally had little trouble in disposing of Britain's Chris Law, who had been in feisty and winning form. The first two races of their best-of- five were no contest as Law undermined any chance of a real attack through penalties. The real form showed in the third race, where Coutts had a penalty to serve.

With Simon Daubney and Warwick Fleury, two of the best in the world, trimming the sails and the Whitbread skipper Brad Butterworth going back to the foredeck, Coutts was able to ignore Law, concentrate on squeezing extra performance out of the new RYA-managed First Class 8, and sail far enough ahead to tuck the penalty turn into his approach to the finish line. Played 16, won 16, lost nil.

His next appearance in San Francisco could take him two-thirds of the way to the $250,000 (pounds 165,000) jackpot for winning three of the five Brut events and accelerate him back to the No 1 slot. And he is watching not just some of the skippers but the crews vying to be part of the America's Cup syndicates. It is an inside track on the opposition that would have the spymasters drooling.

Nigel Bramwell's Bashford 41 Hawk won the Myth of Malham Cup in a bitterly cold and breezy 137-mile race from Cowes to Brighton which saw half of the fleet retire. The race was the first in the Royal Ocean Racing Club's programme to welcome back multihulls.

BRUT ROYAL LYMINGTON CUP: Final (best of five): R Coutts (NZ) bt C Law (GB) 3-0. Third place (best of three): E Baird (US) bt P Holmberg (US Virgin Islands) 2-0.