What makes equals of sheikhs and regular rich people? The Melbourne Cup

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Money can’t buy you a Melbourne Cup, but having some serious wealth behind you certainly helps in the pursuit of Australia’s most prized racing trophy.

Rich-lister Lloyd Williams has won seven Melbourne Cups, and this year joins forces with Jayco Caravan magnate Gerry Ryan, with Cleveland and Serpentine both runners in this year’s Cup.

They will be up against Soulcombe, owned by Aziz “Ozzie” Kheir, founder of property developer Resimax, and Richmond stars Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt.

Aziz “Ozzie” Kheir and his Melbourne Cup runner Soulcombe.Credit: Justin McManus

Kheir, who also has Interpretation running in this year’s race, has won the Cup twice before as a part owner of Protectionist in 2014 and Verry Elleegant in 2021.

“When you’re standing in that mounting yard, it doesn’t matter who where you’ve come from, what background you are, whether you’re a sheikh or whether you’re a country guy with a horse,” Kheir says. “When you’re in that mounting yard with your horse, you’re all equal.”

The son of Lebanese immigrants has been involved in racing for only a decade, but he says that for the past four years it has consumed him.

“The sheikhs and all these billionaires from overseas who have been trying to win the race have come so many times and not been able to do it,” he says. “To have a horse good enough to actually compete in a race like the Melbourne Cup, and then to actually be able to win it, was just the most amazing experience.”

Kheir says he loves the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup, except for the 10 minutes immediately before.

“It’s a very nerve-racking time,” he says. “I can’t tell you how much anxiety I get in that time.”

When he’s watching the race, Kheir says, he can hardly breathe.

“It’s not about me cheering or screaming,” he says. “I’m literally holding my breath while they’re racing … I’ve literally got my eyes glued on my own horse – it doesn’t matter where it is.”

Gerry Ryan had to cheer on his 2020 Melbourne Cup winner from afar.Credit: Justin McManus

It’s not the first time Williams and Ryan have teamed up, and the pair have won the Melbourne Cup before with Twilight Payment.

Ryan’s son Andrew Ryan, who runs the Ryan Group’s hospitality arm, including the Prince Hotel and St Hubert’s winery, reminisced at the Prince’s spring racing carnival lunch about Twilight Payment’s 2020 Melbourne Cup when nobody was allowed at the track.

The Ryans gathered on the top deck of the Prince with fellow owners including Williams and music impresario Michael Gudinski to watch the race on a big screen.

“That was amazing because there wasn’t a lot to celebrate that year,” Ryan said. “What made it more special was that Amanda Elliott, who was the chairman of VRC at the time, and Scott Thompson, who was the chief executive of Lexus, actually drove down from Flemington and presented the Cup up on the deck to the winning owners, and it was just so surreal and exciting when they came out. It would have been probably the first time in its 160 years that the Cup has ever been presented off the track.”

Colin Madden, the managing director of RMBL Investments, won last year’s Melbourne Cup last year with Gold Trip, and thinks the horse has a definite chance of going back-to-back this year.

“He’s been going very well,” Madden says. “It’s the same sequence of races that that led up to last year’s success. But look, I’m the eternal optimist.”

Madden’s optimism has paid off over the years; he also had a share of champion horse Black Caviar, but he generally refrains from betting on his horses.

“A $20 bet is a significant investment for me,” Madden says. “I’m not a gambler, I’m not a punter. I’ve got enough invested without needing to heighten the excitement.”

Madden says his passion for racing has not come cheaply, and when his friend Neil Werrett first asked him to get involved he declined.

“We were keen to meet the school fees rather than waste money on horses, but then the kids were educated, we were a bit more liquid and we joined up with him,” he says. “You need to make sure life’s challenges are behind you before you indulge, and then when you indulge and have a bit of fun it doesn’t seem to be a price too high to pay.”

Madden says it’s better not to put a dollar figure on what he has spent over the years chasing the Melbourne Cup, but it has been worth it.

“Whatever it has cost us, I could not afford to purchase the pleasure that it’s given me,” he says.

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