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Skippers set for dress rehearsal

Home from home: Ben Ainslie won the 2009 Argo Group Gold Cup

This year’s Argo Group Gold Cup could become a dress rehearsal for the America’s Cup World Series to be held in the same month.

Brian Billings, the World Match Racing Association president, revealed yesterday that the skippers of all of the syndicates participating in October’s America’s Cup World Series are highly likely to be invited to take part in the Gold Cup that will be staged on the eve of the former regatta.

“The Argo Group Gold Cup organising committee has not sent out any invitations and obviously nothing has been received yet,” he said. “But it will be highly likely that everyone of those America’s Cup skippers who are going to be here for the America’s Cup World Series will be invited in advance to participate in the Gold Cup.

“They will be here but they can’t practise until the [October] 16th. I believe the boats [AC45s] arrive on the 14th and then they can play. So that means they will be here beforehand and potentially we could have a number of America’s Cup skippers competing in the Argo Group Cup this year.”

The next Gold Cup will again feature the same unique 20-team format, divided into two groups of ten, with the top four teams from each qualifying group advancing to the quarter-finals.

“We are still going with the 20-team format which allows us, not only to invite those top people, but still continue to invite some of the other up-and-coming young skippers as well,” Billings, a past Royal Bermuda Yacht Club commodore, said.

“So for them it’s an incredible opportunity to play, not only with the existing tour-card holders, of which there are eight, but also with those America’s Cup skippers which makes it a pretty phenomenal draw. It could be a very, very exciting Argo Group Gold Cup event.”

The Argo Group Gold Cup is the penultimate stage of the annual World Match Racing Tour schedule with teams competing for $100,000 in prize earnings and the King Edward VII Gold Cup, the oldest match-racing trophy in the world for competition involving one-design yachts.

It is events such as the Gold Cup which have helped groom America’s Cup sailors like Sir Russell Coutts, the Oracle Team USA CEO, who has won the regatta a record seven times. He is also a five-times America’s Cup winner, three times as a skipper and twice as a team CEO.

“Most of these guys got into the America’s Cup through the match racing association’s events around the world,” Billings said.

“Four of the skippers involved in the America’s Cup this year all have been participants and/or winners of the Gold Cup in the past.”

Jimmy Spithill, of Oracle, Sir Ben Ainslie, of Ben Ainslie Racing, Luna Rossa’s Francesco Bruni and Nathan Outterridge, of Artemis Racing, are the four skippers of the syndicates taking part in the America’s Cup World Series in the Great Sound from October 16 to 18.

During a visit to Bermuda earlier this year Coutts, who never lost a race in the America’s Cup, said: “People have talked to me about coming and sailing in it [Gold Cup] again. But obviously I wouldn’t be prepared as I once was.

“Of course I’ve got other responsibilities these days. But who knows ... I might come along and have another shot at it and see how it goes.”

Billings added: “Sir Russell could be part of the invite as well which again is the organising committee’s option.

“He is the most winning skipper with seven wins for the Gold Cup, so he knows the boats [International One Design racing sloop] and the waters — and so do most of the America’s Cup skippers.”

The 2015 Argo Group Gold Cup will be held from October 5 to 11.

Johnie Berntsson, of Sweden, is the reigning champion having captured a second title in seven years with Stena Sailing last year.