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January 22, 1992|RICH ROBERTS

Buddy Melges put Defiant's four straight victories in the defender trials of the America's Cup in perspective Tuesday.

"We had a lovely day today," Melges said after beating boss Bill Koch aboard the older stablemate Jayhawk by 2 minutes 36 seconds, "but we have the dogs out and we're going to tree the possum tomorrow."

The possum's initials are D.C., and he drives a midnight blue boat called Stars & Stripes.

Melges, who trains hunting dogs in Zenda, Wis., was referring to a reporter's suggestion that Dennis Conner hadn't been trying his best in losing both races to Defiant by 1:34 and 3:46--playing possum--while beating Koch's Jayhawk handily by 4:10 and 2:16.

What does it mean? "Defiant is a pretty fast boat," Koch said. "We're not surprised by her performance today." Defiant tactician Dave Dellenbaugh said: "Good tacks, good crew work."

That suggests that basic boat speed--not the helmsmen--is the only difference between the America 3boats. Certainly, Koch would like that to be true.

"The crew work on both boats was outstanding," Koch said. "I'm very proud of the entire America 3team."

For the fourth time in six races, the start was delayed Tuesday--this time for 45 minutes--until proper wind settled in. Then, with 4-5 knots from east of south, Melges followed Jayhawk off the starting line, nose to tail. After several tacks he worked Defiant into a commanding position. It was only the second pass in the six races, the other last week when Conner also passed Koch upwind.

Defiant stretched the lead to 2:13 at the end of the first lap. Jayhawk fell into a favorable shift early on the second windward leg to regain 44 seconds, but Melges tacked to cover his opponent and cruised home.

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