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Alinghi wins first final race

AMERICA'S Cup holder Alinghi beat bitter rival Oracle by one second yesterday in a tense start to the three-race challenger final at the Pacific Series sailing regatta.

As lawyers for both teams presented opening arguments to the New York Court of Appeals in a rancorous legal battle over planning for the next America's Cup regatta, sailors produced a bout of equal drama off Auckland in New Zealand.

BMW Oracle Racing first won quarterfinal and semifinals matches in a jammed schedule yesterday to earn the right to oppose Alinghi in the best-of-three challenger final. The second and third races of the series will be held today and the winner will face Team New Zealand in a best-of-seven series final tomorrow and on Saturday.

Oracle beat Damiani Italia Challenge by 29 seconds in the last eight and another Italian challenger, Luna Rossa, by nine seconds in the semifinals yesterday. The crew then regrouped for the first race against Alinghi, which qualified directly for the challenger final by finishing first after round-robin racing.

Though the respective skippers for Alinghi and Oracle, Brad Butterworth and Russell Coutts, are New Zealanders, relations between the syndicates have been embittered by their protracted legal squabble.

Oracle, headed by billionaire software magnate Larry Ellison and representing San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club, has challenged the legitimacy of the Spanish yacht club appointed by Alinghi to the crucial position of Challenger of Record for the 33rd Cup defense.

After winning the America's Cup from Team New Zealand off Auckland in 2003 and defending it off Valencia, Spain, in 2007, Alinghi appointed Spain's Club Nautico Espanol De Vela as Challenger of Record for the next regatta, which was due to be held later this year.

Oracle challenged that appointment, saying Club Nautico Espanol De Vela did not meet several of the criteria for participation in the Cup.

The New York Supreme Court, which holds jurisdiction in Cup matters after the trophy's 132-year residence in New York, initially found in Oracle's favor but Alinghi lodged an appeal which came before the Appeals Court on Tuesday.


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