Sunday, two things happened to Oracle. It raced better upwind and won the first race. And it raced terribly DOWN-wind, and made errors that lost it the second race.
The first race was - picture perfect. Absolutely perfect. Did I mention it was perfect?
Oracle was on the spot at the start, on the spot at the First Mark, and ran like hell downwind.... Just like we knew it can.
Then came up-wind. And the hold of position. The boats split the Mark, New Zealand to shore side. Oracle rounded Mark 3 – 27 seconds ahead of New Zealand, and just kept going. New Zealand gained nothing up-wind. Oracle extended it's lead, up-wind!
Oracle proved what it has said all along... It CAN win these races. (If it is flawless.)
Ahh, but then there is Race 10, the second race of the day.
It looked like Oracle was going to pinch New Zealand at the bottom pin of the start, but ETNZ snuck in – and even though Oracle was 20 meters or so ahead, New Zealand was lower and got into the boundary zone – with inches of overlap to its benefit - then rounded the Mark in a sweeping turn to keep Oracle far away from the critical first gybe. Then New Zealand simply marched down the course, widening its lead over Oracle.
Oh but it wasn’t over for Oracle, not by a long shot. With a lead over 230 meters, you’d think it was in the bag for ETNZ. Nope.
At the bottom Mark (3) starting that upwind leg, Oracle was 9 seconds and 120 meters behind. And it split the course, New Zealand shore side, Oracle Bay side. That’s when it got really, Really, REALLY interesting.
On the up-wind leg, Oracle chopped the lead to 160 meters the first time it crossed ETNZ. On the second tack, the lead was 125 meters; on the third, 124; on the fourth tack, the lead was only 84 meters; and then, on the fifth tack - the impossible happened. Oracle crossed in FRONT of New Zealand. Oracle had beaten them Up-wind. Oracle was 31 meters ahead.
Neptune was on the water, again.
Oracle widened its lead, at one point, to 108 meters. A football field, plus, ahead of ETNZ.
But Neptune is a fickle god and just two tacks later, at the next crossing, New Zealand was in the lead again, by 33 meters.
Approaching the gate at Mark 4, it looked like Oracle hit he lay line first and the race was on. It was nearly a dead heat to the gate. But Oracle was on starboard tack, and ETNZ had to give way. It ducked under Oracle who got to and through the gate first. But just barely. Oracle’s chosen pin was a little farther away than the side New Zealand rounded. It looked like a dead heat. And – it was.
Again the boats split, Oracle inland, ETNZ out on the Bay. At the first crossing it was a collision course. And Oracle slowed down to duck under New Zealand. Oracle has starboard rights, ETNZ was close (15-20 meters, maybe, ahead), and must have looked too close or just ahead to Oracle. That’s when New Zealand pounced. It got a 100 meter lead at that crossing. And never looked back.
Oracle had lost it’s down-wind run advantage over Team New Zealand.
At one point over 250 meters ahead, New Zealand went wide around the last Mark, and lost 50 or so meters, only to get it right back as Oracle rounded close to the Mark in an effort to gain ground.
To no avail. New Zealand captured Race 10.
So, Oracle Can win the races - if it is absolutely perfect in its execution. The Kiwis can lose races - if they screw up. And the Kiwis seldom do that. And Oracle is seldom perfect. So far.
But Oracle did something today it has not done before. It raced a perfect race. Race 9.
Can Oracle repeat that performance? Over and over and over? Oracle can not split victories with New Zealand and win The Cup. Oracle has to win - double races - double days. Triple days. It’s a huge mountain to climb. But Oracle has climbed those mountains before.
The Race is on.
Many watching where I was, said Race 10 was the clincher, that Oracle had to win it today, to win both races today, to stay a contender. If I was a betting man, I’d bet that Oracle lost the Cup today, in the second race. I think there is another win in Oracle, maybe even two. But the two race penalty, and the down-wind loss today; those are hard to beat.