America's Cup: down to the final four challengers

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May 10, 2007 The Louis Vuitton cup is heating up. The 10th flight of racing saw Desafio Español 2007 join BMW Oracle, Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand as the four semi-finallists. The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup gets to tackle the defending Swiss champion Alinghi in a best-of-9 series to decide who takes home the America's Cup, the oldest sporting trophy in the world.

On Tuesday afternoon, Desafío Español 2007 joined an elite group; the Spanish are the fourth team to qualify for the Semi Finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup. When Emirates Team New Zealand beat Victory Challenge, the Swedes chances of advancing were erased.

Although the Spanish lost their match today to BMW ORACLE Racing, there was jubilation on board when the boat returned to Port America's Cup. A wild celebration at the dock ensued, with crew members being tossed into the water, and champagne sprayed over the team and the boat.

There is still one flight of racing left to complete Round Robin Two, and it will determine the top team at the conclusion of this stage of the event. BMW ORACLE Racing meets Emirates Team New Zealand on Wednesday, and the winner will lead the table and have the right to choose its Semi Final opponent. FLIGHT 10 Flight 10 will be remembered as the moment that Desafío Español secured its place in the Semi Finals, although it didn't look that way in the early stages of this flight. The Spanish were relying on Emirates Team New Zealand to beat Victory Challenge, the Swedes being the only team that could possibly displace Spain from the final four.

In the pre-start, Dean Barker seemed intent on getting the hook on Magnus Holmberg but the Kiwi afterguard's timing went badly awry. While Victory Challenge charged off the line on starboard tack, the Kiwis tacked to the right and were almost 25 seconds late starting. However, the wind was shifting right and the New Zealand boat was soon causing Victory some problems despite the pre-start error.

Holmberg defended the lead around the windward mark, but only by 10 seconds. When Sweden gybed towards the middle of the run, the Kiwis held out to the right and picked up better breeze to pull them past Sweden by the leeward gate. From there, Victory Challenge could never get back on level terms with New Zealand, and there were slumped shoulders on board SWE 96 as they crossed the finish line, their hopes of making the Semi Finals dashed.

There was an aggressive and thrilling pre-start between Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team and Luna Rossa Challenge, with Mascalzone entering from the left of the course but with Jes Gram-Hansen pulling off a daring manoeuvre to seize the right from James Spithill. The Australian tried to make amends with continued assaults on Mascalzone, but at just before start time Gram-Hansen gybed around the Race Committee boat to secure a perfect start while Luna Rossa started one boatlength back.

However, ITA 94 showed superior pace upwind to take the lead by half way up the beat, and never looked threatened - until the dying metres of the final run when Mascalzone made a late surge on to the transom of Luna Rossa. It was all too little too late, though, with ITA 94 crossing the line 7 seconds ahead.

BMW ORACLE was the far more manoeuvrable and active boat in the pre-start against Desafío Español, and Chris Dickson won the right side of the start in a split-tack exit from the line. When the American boat tacked back, it was already in control, using the right-hand favoured breeze to exert an early advantage from which it would extend to a 55 second delta by the finish.

+39 Challenge hurried around the start box like a greyhound while China Team wallowed, looking vulnerable in the pre-start. Iain Percy started on the gun at speed and Pierre Mas was late at the Race Committee boat end of the line. Untroubled, the Italian boat extended throughout the race to win by 1 minute 57 seconds.

Areva Challenge wanted the right, defended the right, and although United Internet Team Germany was faster off the port end of the line, the French claimed an early advantage which they defended in a tacking duel up the first beat. Having extended down the run, and despite a difficult mark rounding at the leeward gate, Sébastien Col sailed to a 35 second victory.

To keep up with the action, visit the America's Cup website.

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