AmericaOne edges Prada in possible preview



AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- It remains to be seen whether AmericaOne and the Prada Challenge will be the two syndicates in the America's Cup challenger final, but it will be difficult for any future race between them to match the spectacle of today's.

Sailing downwind on the final leg, their two expensive yachts and experienced crews were within easy shouting distance of each other, and both the AmericaOne skipper, Paul Cayard, and the Prada tactician, Torben Grael, made sure they were heard.

There were screams about unfair tactics, a flurry of protest flags on both boats and the sort of close-quarter jibing duel one rarely gets to see at this level of sailboat racing. But in the end, AmericaOne had the last word, winning by eight seconds in the most emotional and exciting race of the challenger series so far.

"It was a thrill," said Cayard, whose boat led by 1 minute, 2 seconds at the first mark but was caught from behind by Prada just before the final windward mark. "I'm happy we won, and on the other hand I'm not happy because of the lead we lost."

What should also make Cayard happy is that his team is now guaranteed of at least advancing to a sail-off for the two-boat challenger final. With a 7-1 record and only two races remaining in these semifinals, the worst Cayard can do is finish in a three-way tie for first.

Meanwhile, after losing one precious point to a jury decision and losing to Prada on the water yesterday after a horrific start, Dennis Conner's Stars and Stripes team managed to keep its hopes afloat with a narrow, 19-second victory over Le Defi Francais.

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