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COMMENT | Losing our marbles – The irrelevance of the luck of the Melbourne Cup draw

History tells us that the barrier draw means very little when it comes to the Melbourne Cup, so why did connections sit out in the Melbourne cold and rain on Saturday evening awaiting the drop of a marble?

Marble 14 will stick in the mind of Racing Victoria’s integrity boss Jamie Stier for some time. The elusive blighter caused a massive headache and red faces last Wednesday, going missing when most required for the public barrier draw of the Empire Rose Stakes.

Yearning had been left at the altar, without a barrier to her name, forcing a hasty decision to redraw the barrier for her alone. You can guess what number came up when the redraw was done. Stier was being trolled by a marble.

For some reason it took RV a few hours to realise that the circumstances of the draw, and the fact it was held in a Perspex barrel where the steward could see what number he was pulling out, were less than desirable. The whole field was eventually redrawn.

Icebath, who jumped from barrier three, would win the race thanks to an inspired rails-hugging ride from Craig Williams. She had been initially drawn in barrier 18.

The Melbourne Cup barrier draw is the most watched and scrutinised game of ‘horse lotto’ in Australia each year. Traditionally held after the conclusion of Derby day on course, it is, for connections, the first course of the feast of Melbourne Cup functions for them for the week, and it is becoming an unappetising entrée.

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Clouds descend on the 2022 Melbourne Cup Barrier Draw. (Photo by Jay Town/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

There are stockyards run with less chaos than what ensued on Saturday night at Flemington. Melbourne’s spring weather has been particularly grim this year, so it should be no surprise that when host Michael Felgate began the draw, he was faced with sidewards drizzle and rows of umbrellas sheltering a collection of people that would rather be somewhere warmer.

It stood in sharp contrast to The Everest barrier draw a couple of weeks ago, where 500 drones displayed the horses and their associated barriers over Sydney Harbour. It was as spectacular as barrier draws get  – admittedly it’s a poor field – and was not subject to the same variance in weather or marble behaviour that Flemington has endured.

That was because the actual computer-generated draw had been done some hours earlier and a moratorium put on betting on the race between the actual draw and the simulated draw with drones. Barring the drones themselves becoming sentient, Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys has, not for the first time, made his Victorian counterparts look like mugs.

That’s not to say V’landys hasn’t fluffed his own lines when it comes to barrier draws. His infamous plans to project the draw for the 2018 Everest onto the sails of the Opera House caused a massive political and PR bunfight which acted as a salutary lesson in ‘reading the room’.

It’s not as if Sydney has a scarcity of spectacular places to host such things, and the 2022 Everest draw showed what can be done with some innovative planning and an appreciation of what works on television.

Drones light up Sydney Harbour for The Everest barrier draw, (Photo: Screenshot/ATC).

Meanwhile at Flemington, the VRC, which recently spent $128 million on its new Club Stand, couldn’t find a place out of the wind and rain to suitably host connections for its showcase barrier draw. Instead, selected connections got to shelter under umbrellas in the mounting yard, while others were penned away like a rampaging river from a floodplain.

Anyone who has attended a Melbourne Cup barrier draw over the years can tell you that on a good day they are a shambles, but on Saturday, that appeared to reach a whole new level. A previous Melbourne Cup-winning owner, Luke Murrell of Australian Bloodstock, shared his disdain on social media.

And for what? What does the Melbourne Cup draw actually mean?

Well, while the endless streams of SEO-optimised websites might tell you otherwise, history says there is no discernible advantage where you draw, which given the field has a good 1000-metre straight stretch to find their positions, is no shock.

The stats tell us that there is an ever so slight advantage to being drawn in the inside eight barriers (36 per cent of winners), compared to 34 per cent for barriers 9-16 and 30 per cent for barriers 17-24.  However, recent history has four of the past six winners drawing 17 and wider. You are just as good a chance of winning from the outside four barriers as you are the inside four.

As for the ‘incredible curse’, as it was called in the media, of barrier 18, which Verry Elleegant supposedly ended or didn’t end depending on which schism of barrier conspiracy theory you subscribe to, the concept that one barrier position could be haunted is patently ridiculous.

Unless you are talking about barrier 14, of course. Just ask Jamie Stier.

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