You have to feel more than a bit sorry for Dean Barker. He was denied the America's Cup last time when the infamous race 13 was called off in San Francisco. Emirates Team NZ had a Cup-winning lead in light airs but fell foul of the time limit, an arbitrary boundary of importance to no one bar the Great God TV.

There was, after that, the small matter of that remarkable Oracle comeback. Barker was a casualty in the TNZ wash-up after that.

He is often unfairly cast as a choker by detractors, and the shot of a tearful Barker, shattered after the San Francisco loss, will live long in memories, particularly the trolls'.

He remains a brave man in my book. Fresh from a debilitating defeat, a sombre Barker did what many - most - would not have when photographer Brett Phibbs and I tracked him down at Team NZ's base: he fronted.


The bottle of beer in his hand at the time must have tasted like sewage; his smile when he chatted with his team-mates was wan, to say the least. All he would have wanted was to flee and be with his wife and kids. But he fronted, the mark of a responsible man. He had my respect as a sailor and a bloke before that; amplified afterwards.

But even in top tier sport - and life in general - a little luck is required and Barker seems to have precious little of that going for him. Friday's loss to Oracle Team USA was a case in point. He stuffed Jimmy Spithill at the start before Spithill successfully pulled off the gamble of a split in the fifth leg, found better wind and rocketed past Softbank Team Japan.

Barker confessed - again, an honest man - they'd chosen the wrong gate, saying: "These boats are hard to manage in the light air. These are some of the hardest conditions to sail the boat in, and while it's frustrating, there's still a long way to go in this competition."

There isn't really, not now. If TNZ finish as top challenger, they will almost certainly choose BAR as their playoffs opponent; the Brits seem a lame duck. They have won three of eight races so far and got a leg-up for the play-offs because they carried over two preposterous points, courtesy of their performance in the America's Cup World Series last year.

That's right, a different boat in a different regatta.That's like the England rugby team being admitted to the Rugby World Cup semifinals because they won the Six Nations.

The only thing more preposterous than that is defender OTUSA taking part in the challenger series. They also carried over one point gained from the ACWS. If they win the series after this morning's race, they take a bonus point into the Cup match - doubly ridiculous.

The America's Cup defender always has an advantage. But that's like the England rugby team going straight into the final of the Rugby World Cup - with a five-point lead before they start the game.

Getting back to Barker, he ends up skippering Japan's boat and they end up being Son Of Oracle - with design and other help from the US syndicate. Whatever happens now, Team Japan will always be the boat and the crew who suckled prodigiously at the Oracle teat.

So even if Barker had done well in this regatta, it would always be tempered by the knowledge they were the favoured sons, towed into the regatta by SS Nepotism.

Win or lose, Barker loses. If TNZ select the Brits in the playoffs, Japan will face Artemis. That will be a deeply interesting clash but Japan have been so good at grabbing a lead and then losing it that few will give them a show, especially after Artemis beat OTUSA yesterday.

So the close ties with Oracle may not extend to the ability to get into the Cup match - and it was ludicrous anyone would think Barker deliberately allowed the Americans past in that Friday clash (thought it highlights Barker's lose-lose scenario).

The luck, ironically, appears to have been with TNZ and their rookie skipper Peter "Iceberg" Burling, whose sang froid has raised many eyebrows. He has made mistakes but his Easter Island statue comportment means he seems unaffected.

Team New Zealand should have had a point docked in that thrilling finish to the Artemis-TNZ clash on Tuesday. The umpires were man enough to say they got it wrong - and America's Cup rules are loony enough that an on-water decision stands, even if it is wrong.

Congratulations to the umpires; that took some balls. So as we move into the playoffs, TNZ look strong, particularly if you believe they have optimised their boat for the lighter airs likely to prevail in the Cup match and that they have more tricks up their sleeves.

But if it was possible for Barker to do well as well, that would be great.