BAIRD is the number one skipper in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings and top seed here. SPITHILL is the reigning ISAF Match Racing World Champion. New Zealander COUTTS is the seven-time Gold Cup winner and second seed, while LINDBERG is the 12 ranked sailor waiting as a spoiler in the wings.
A marathon number of races had veteran sailors digging deep to remain in the hunt as they reach for the final day of racing that will crown a new Gold Cup King.
Some of the biggest names in the sport were eliminated on Saturday, including Chris DICKSON (NZL) who lost to BAIRD in the quarter finals 2-0. New Zealander Gavin BRADY also lost to COUTTS by a 2-0 score.
The stakes were high for all competitors after two days of light air meant this morning's knock-out round eliminated half the fleet. The afternoon quarter finals were a best to two race series offering little room for error.
After COUTTS won the first race, BRADY had a strong start in the second, and led for three legs. COUTTS then took advantage of a wind shift on the upwind leg and crossed in front. The two continued to battle on the final downwind leg but COUTTS finally nipped BRADY by three lengths.
'The whole idea when you get behind is to get close and go for it when you get your chance,' COUTTS said. 'Gavin cleaned us out at the start but I guess it is more important to finish well.'
BRADY agreed. 'Russell had the opportunity to close the distance between us on a six-leg course and fought hard to stay in the race,'.
'The racing is always much closer than it appears. It is never as easy, but they did a better job than we did at the start of the second race,' BAIRD said.
During these quarterfinals, an intense battle developed between LINDBERG and Mathieu RICHARD (FRA). LINDBERG and his Finnish team eventually won 2-1 after RICHARD incurred a second penalty in the final race on a controversial call. It was a penalty that cost the Frenchman his place in the semi finals.
'If you make a mistake out there, you pay,' LINDBERG said. 'You have to get the starts and the first shift right and then it gets a little easier. Richard is one of the best and he sailed very well today. He was sailing strong but that second penalty gave us our opportunity.'
'We learn a lot from these guys every time we go out there and I am disappointed that we lost but they truly did out sail us,' HARDESTY said. 'They did pick the correct sides of the course and that was what really wins the races here.'
Additionally, Sally BARKOW (USA), the Virtual Spectator ISAF Women's Match Racing World Champion, was disappointed by her 3-0 loss to DICKSON. BARKOW incurred two penalties in her second race and was unable to recover. The third race was a close contest but DICKSON eventually outmanoeuvred her and went on to a win.
'We feel like we were right there but it is a difficult game,' BARKOW said. 'We learned a lot in these boats and would definitely come at them again a little differently.'
'I don't think we had good boat speed. It was difficult for us to sail well in the light winds,' NAKAMURA said.
The semi final and final races will be held today from 0900 local time in Hamilton Harbour.
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