How do the Kiwis hate Dennis Conner?

Let us count the ways.Nearly two years ago at Fremantle, Australia, he suggested that the upstarts from New Zealand built a 12-meter sailboat out of fiberglass because they were trying to cheat.

A couple of months later he burst their bubble in the America's Cup challenge final, 4-1.

But they felt Wednesday was the worst, the way he toyed with them with his Stars & Stripes catamaran and rubbed their noses in the trouble they caused by forcing this acrimonious defense.

To listen to the Kiwis tell it, Conner sailed the worst race of his life - and still won by 18 minutes, 15 seconds.

"If I was in his boat I would have won by an hour," said Bruce Farr, who designed Michael Fay's magnificent 133-foot monohull. "I would have sailed it like a sailor. He was working very hard - to sail slow."

Skipper David Barnes added at the post-race press conference, "We didn't feel that Stars & Stripes was going anywhere near its potential. We felt that they just paced us around the course.

"If that is the best that Dennis can do, then it's a disappointment for him to be defending in the America's Cup."

Conner barely blinked.

"I guess when (Barnes has) won four America's Cups he can tell me how to do it," he said.

And a question from the floor: "Dennis, were you dogging it?"

Conner: "I'm sailing a cat. Somebody else is sailing a dog."

Oooh!

As was often the case at Fremantle, the press conferences may be more interesting than the races.

Rival syndicate heads Fay and Malin Burnham were scheduled to duel publicly Thursday morning, no doubt pursuing the issue of whether Stars & Stripes is trying to make the races close to weaken Fay's case when he goes back to court against the catamaran.

There isn't much time left to thrash these things out. Stars & Stripes should wrap up the best-of-three series in a 39-mile race around a triangular course Friday, an event as attractive as a Tyson-Spinks rematch.

Certainly Wednesday's event - 20 miles to windward and back in light winds - didn't bring on cardiac arrest.

Half the people on the press boat were asleep, literally asleep, by the time Conner's blue-hulled, 60-foot cat turned the mark 9:04 in front, while ESPN was dredging up features from the depths of its tape library to fill out the dead spots in its - excuse the expression - live television coverage.

For a while, early in the race, dolphins played alongside the big white boat, a good-luck omen for the crew of 35, including Fay himself.

But it became so lopsided that even Flipper and friends jumped ship, picking up the catamaran farther up the course.

At the start of the race, as the sun broke through the overcast, the wind was 7 knots, dropping to 6 out to sea and freshening to 9 near the finish. Because light air was anticipated, Stars & Stripes had elected that morning to sail with its taller, 108-foot airfoil rig but mated it with a very small headsail - the first tip that tactics would be conservative.

The two boats hardly engaged before the start, and at the gun Stars & Stripes was 10 seconds farther off the line but at the upwind end and no worse than even with the Kiwis.

Six minutes after the start, as Stars & Stripes took command, Barnes initiated a tacking match, flopping his big boat 15 times in 20 minutes. Unlike conventional catamarans, Stars & Stripes was able to respond, tack for tack, without losing ground.

But it also was evident that the cat wasn't stretching its very long legs.

In tuning it had shown it could lift one hull out of the water - the fastest mode of sailing for a multihull - in only 7 knots of breeze. But both hulls, as Farr was to point out, generally remained "buried nicely in the water."