Top Boats Face Off At Cup

Ed Iten, of Kotzebue, Alaska, who placed second in last year's race, feeds his dogs during a rest stop at the Rainy Pass, Alaska, checkpoint during the second day of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Monday, March 6, 2006.
AP Photo/Al Grillo

Italy's Prada scored a dramatic victory over San Francisco's AmericaOne Friday when two of the biggest guns went head to head for the first time in the challenger series for the America's Cup.

Spinnaker problems for both teams were the deciding factor in the most anticipated and exciting race of the regatta so far.

After racing was postponed Thursday because of gale-force wind, conditions were nearly perfect Friday for fast match racing among the syndicates fighting for the chance to take on New Zealand for sailing's most prized trophy next year.

In a breeze blowing a steady 15 knots, skipper Francesco de Angelis' beat the Americans at the start and built a lead of 24 seconds by the first turn.

The Italians hit trouble after rounding the mark, twice losing their spinnaker and their lead in the first downwind leg of the 12.5 nautical mile course on Hauraki Gulf.

The Italians made up two boat lengths on the next leg and were within striking distance of Paul Cayard's AmericaOne as they headed downwind towards the finish.

Cayard looked to have held off Prada when, with just a few hundred yards to go, the giant green spinnaker collapsed into the water.

Prada powered past and won the race by 17 seconds. AmericaOne raised another spinnaker but crossed the line with shreds of the torn old sail flapping from the top of the mast.

It was AmericaOne's first loss of the regatta, and ended what had been a three-way leadership deadlock.

Prada went ahead on points but has yet to have their bye. New York challenger Young America is also undefeated, but must beat Prada in their next race, expected Saturday, to draw even.

In other races, the Spanish Challenge defeated Young Australia by 37 seconds; America True defeated Stars and Stripes by 41 seconds; Nippon defeated Le Defi Francais by 1 minute, 53 seconds; and Young America defeated Abradabra by 1 minute, 24 seconds.

The number of races on Friday was half that of previous days because of a local racing regatta on waters near the two challenger courses.

In more than 700 races over four months, the 11 challenger teams from seven countries score one point for each victory in the first of three round-robins, four points in the second and nine in the third.

The winner of a finals series will meet Team New Zealand in a best-of-9 regatta starting in February 2000 for the America's Cup.

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