Ranking the Challengers for the Cup

1. After two straight victories, Russell Coutts and his key team members bring a wealth of experience to the Swiss Alinghi Challenge. Syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli, 37, is a well-organized manager and is providing abundant funding for a two-boat effort.2. Speaking of experience, Dennis Conner's nine Cup campaigns stretch over 29 years. For the 2003 Stars & Stripes campaign he's recruited America's best sailors, including Ken Read, Tom Whidden, Terry Hutchinson, and Peter Isler, and the talented design team of John Reichel and Jim Pugh. Conner's efficient management style is second to none.3. Building on the successful Sayonara program, Larry Ellison and manager Bill Erkelens have recruited design leader Bruce Farr and helmsman Chris Dickson for Oracle Racing, plus Peter Holmberg, one of the hottest hands on the match-race circuit. Leaving Paul Cayard on the bench is a mystery¿and a mistake. However, Ellison will likely spend time at the wheel. 4. The well-funded Prada team from Italy won the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2000, but then fell flat. Kiwi ace Gavin Brady has joined Rod Davis and Francesco de Angelis, and after buying the New York YC's Young America boats, they've trained steadily in Italy and New Zealand. However, the distraction of being the Challenger of Record won't help.5. Syndicate head Craig McCaw has recruited many non-Americans for the U.S. challenge called OneWorld, led by the talented and experienced Peter Gilmour of Australia. Designers Bruce Nelson and Laurie Davidson should create a fast boat, but turnover in the sailing team and funding issues have raised questions about this group's potential. 6. The strongest first-time challenge is the GBR Challenge, with former Cup skipper David Barnes and two-time Olympic medalist Ian Walker as managers. Having assembled Britain's best sailors, the syndicate almost beat Italy's Prada at the America's Cup Jubilee. If this group stays together for two or three Cups, they'll probably win it all, judging from Britain's recent Olympic success.7. Skipper John Kostecki has been impressive in the Volvo Ocean Race, and will take the Illbruck German Challenge to Auckland with a one-boat campaign. This is a well-managed group and may surprise its competitors on the water.8. The Sweden Victory Challenge's skipper Magnus Holmberg is No. 1 on the Swedish Match Grand Prix Tour (match-race circuit), and designer German Frers has been hired after doing a good job for Prada. This two-boat challenge has one boat sailing in New Zealand already and could also upset the pecking order.9. Challenges from France have been pursuing the Cup since 1970, but the Defi Areva syndicate, with Luc Gellusseau as manager and a one-boat program, will once again come up short. The best match-race skipper from France, Bertrand Pacé, will be sailing with TNZ.10. Italy's second challenger, Mascalzone Latino, is a long shot based on a late start and lack of Cup experience, but includes successful world champion owner-driver Vincenzo Onorato and his strong sailing team.