Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

Melbourne Cup: The colour of money

Greg Dixon ignores some sage advice from a racing guru and wins big.

"Never wear a green shirt!" bellowed the racing editor. In the silence created by this mad outburst, my little gulp must have sounded like a tolling bell.

"I wore a green shirt once at the track," he continued, "and lost all day. That was 12 years ago. I don't even talk to people wearing green shirts now."

Above the collar of my green shirt, embarrassment caused my face to go a colour John Key would probably call "gay red". Mind you, it was my own fault. If you have the temerity to ask a busy racing editor for a Melbourne Cup tip the day before the Melbourne Cup, then you get what you deserve - which is a bloody earful and a semi-useless piece of advice, such as don't wear green.

I didn't dare ask what dire ramifications flowed from wearing a green shirt the day before the Melbourne Cup, but I did know that it wasn't going to make any difference to what I did on the first Tuesday of November 2012.

I have an unhappy relationship with gambling, mainly because gambling makes me happy, so I don't gamble, and this makes me unhappy.

The reason I don't gamble is not because I've ever lost the house or even my shirt on a bet. It's just that, many years ago, I worked out that I like gambling - by which I mean betting, not buying stupid Lotto tickets - just a little too much and, if I let myself do it with any kind of regularity, I could see myself moving into a small, damp, shared downstairs room in a place called the poor house.

So - and this is a startling display of self-control for me - I don't gamble, except on the first Tuesday in November, the day they run the Great Race, the race that stops two nations, the marvellous Melbourne Cup.

I make the exception because, well, it's the Melbourne Cup, the Great Race, the race that stops two nations etc. And also because a bit of a flutter on the nags once a year isn't going to do any harm now is it?

I have done this with varying degrees of success for some years. Two years ago - and this is God's honest truth - I backed the horses that came in first, second and third. The only reason that I am not now driving an Aston Martin Rapide to my new home in Remmers is that I did not back these horses in a way that would have delivered hundreds of thousands of crisp, clean, tax-free dollars. Instead, what I had done was bet five measly bucks on each horse to place.

This delivered me the not terribly impressive profit of $16 - though it also furnished me with a small amount of renown among my small group of friends.

If the first part of this bizarre win, the $16, didn't even make it home with me
(I was in a pub when the race finished and used the 16 bucks to buy myself and my mate a beer to celebrate), then the second bit, the glory, has lasted quite a lot longer.

Not even picking losers (and losing $50) in last year's Melbourne Cup has seemed to dent my near-mythic status as a Picker of Winners.

But then, the day before this year's Cup, the racing editor got all angry and waved a big red flag about my green shirt. What could it mean?

When I sat down on the morning of the Great Race to read the form guide, I knew there was only one thing I could do: stick with my tried and sometimes true strategy.

It may surprise you to learn that this involves backing at least a quarter of the field. There were 24 ponies in this year's Melbourne Cup, which meant I would have to spread my $75 (that's inflation for you) across at least six of the horses. In the end, I backed nine, including the one I had in the $10 office sweepstake.

I will admit that most people laugh at this strategy, aka The Shotgun Approach, and I can see why. But I've always figured that the more horses you back in a race, the more likely you are to pick a winner. Here's the logic: even if one of horses wins but you don't make back all of your money back, at least you can feel good about picking a winner - and everyone likes that.

My second strategy is even less complicated: pick horses that have good names. This year's field included, at number 15, a nag called "Maluckyday", so of course I had to put $5 on that. But it was the horse just above it, number 14, that caught my eye. It was called - I couldn't quite believe it - "Green Moon".

The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines the word "serendipity" as the "occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way". I define serendipity as "finding out a horse with the word 'green' in its name is running in the Melbourne Cup the day after being told green is for losers by the racing editor".

So there was only one thing to do: I put $10 on Green Moon; $10 for the bugger to win.

I almost didn't make it over to the pub in time for the start of the race this year - Tuesday is deadline day at Canvas - but as I ran up the stairs the final horses were being guided into the gate ... and then they were off.

To be honest, when the race ended, I had no idea who had won. One of the problems with backing nearly half of the Cup's field is that, due to the excitement, you have trouble remembering all the horses you've put money on. So it was only when the names of the three winning horses appeared on the television screen a few minutes after the race ended that I realised Green Moon had come in the winner, at a stonking $22.50!

When I checked my betting slips I discovered another winner: I'd also picked the horse that came third, Jakkalberry, which was paying $16. This meant for my outlay of $75, I had won $305, a return of $230.

But better still, green had been the winner rather than the loser on the day.

If the racing editor is reading this, I'd just like him to know that, the following morning, I collected my winnings - apart from the $5 - in nice, crisp, green, $20 notes. I also spent $5 on earplugs for the next time he offers me advice.

Of course, the chances of me winning money like that again any time soon are, by my calculations, a thousand to one - though with my luck I might still be worth backing.

But sadly I am no longer a betting man. When you win this big, I reckon it's best to call it a day. Well at least until the next first Tuesday in November.

- NZ Herald

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