SAN FRANCISCO - Emirates Team New Zealand won back-to-back America's Cup races on Thursday, thwarting efforts by defending champion Oracle to gain a desperately needed win. "They've almost got this thing in the bag," Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill said after the Kiwis notched two more victories. "Imagine if these guys lost from here what an upset that would be," he added. "That would be one hell of a comeback, and that is the kind of thing I would like to be part of."

The victories on Thursday brought the number of Kiwi victories to six and puts the challenger just three wins away from wresting yachting's cherished prize from the hands of Oracle, which has won only one race in the series. "It feels great," New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said of the lead his team holds ahead of the next Cup races, which are set to take place on Saturday. "But, it is only two-thirds of the way to actually winning the America's Cup," he continued. "Three more races is still a lot of hard work; one bad day out there and things can be quite different."

Barker said he avoids reading about the mounting fervor in New Zealand as his team dominates on the San Francisco Bay. "I will definitely join them in the bar if things go well," Barker quipped. Barker said he and his crew are confident in their AC72 catamaran and tactics, which have foiled Oracle in all but one race in the best-of-17 series.

Oracle, on the other hand, will be looking to make changes, and might not even train on Friday if it decides on major modifications to its AC72, according to Spithill. The Kiwi catamaran has proven to be faster on an upwind third leg of the course that has consistently been Oracle's undoing. Also, an automated "self-tacking jib" system seems to have made the New Zealand AC72 more nimble on the water. "Obviously, these guys have got an edge upwind and tacking," Spithill said of the challenger. "But, we haven't seen all conditions yet."

Oracle's decision to replace tactician John Kostecki with Britain's four-time Olympic champion Ben Ainslie on Thursday couldn't reverse their fortunes on the water. Spithill said that Kostecki agreed with the move. The skipper sidestepped a question regarding what words team owner, billionaire yachtsman Larry Ellison, has had for him thus far.

The Americans hit the start of the day's first race, the sixth in the series, with precision, and grabbed a lead that grew from the first to second marks. But the upwind third leg of the course was, once again, disastrous for the US team. The Kiwis sailed straight at Oracle in an on-water game of chicken that forced the US team to turn wide and slow down. New Zealand then orchestrated an upwind tacking battle, which played to their strength and Oracle's weakness.

New Zealand had about a 200 meter lead over Oracle at the third marker and crossed the finish line 47 seconds ahead of the Americans. In the day's second race, New Zealand crossed the start slightly ahead of Oracle as the teams faced off in a test of speed until the third leg. Oracle was 56 seconds behind when it turned around the third mark, and New Zealand crossed the finish one minute and six seconds ahead of Oracle. Oracle began the finals two points adrift after a pre-regatta penalty, and have won just one race, leaving them stuck on minus one and still needing 10 more wins to retain the Cup. "We can not give up," Spithill said. "I am still convinced we can win races. We are going to have to study the data and really see what we can do to change up the boat."