One of the great cornerstones of the Melbourne Cup’s mythology is the idea that it is a truly egalitarian race.

Because the race has always been run as a handicap — where the horses are given different weights according to their ability in an effort to make the field as even as possible — the theory is that the battlers with the good bush horse have as much chance as the bluebloods from the city.

But not anymore. In the last decade, the Melbourne Cup has become a rich man’s race.

Eight of the last 10 Melbourne Cup winners have been owned by members or former members of an Australian or overseas rich list. The winners include:

  • Laurence Eales who won in 2009 with gelding Shocking. Eales, who owns EA Hire, one of Australia’s largest private hire firms, joined the BRW Young Rich list in September with a fortune of $44 million.
  • Dato Tan Chin Nam, who won in 2008 with Viewed and has previously won the Cup with Saintly and Think Big. Dato was last on the Malaysian rich list in 2008 with a fortune of about $190 million. His family owns a large stake in property company IGB Corporation.
  • Lloyd Williams, who won in 2007 with Efficient and has previously won with What a Nuisance and Just a Dash. Williams, who was valued on the BRW Rich 200 list in May with fortune of $900 million, derived from investments and property development.
  • Tony Santic, who won in 2003, 2004 and 2005 with Makybe Diva. Santic was last listed on the Rich 200 in 2005, with a fortune of $150 million. He is best known for building a fortune from tuna fishing in the South Australian town of Port Lincoln.
  • Michael Smurfit, who won in 2002 with Irish horse Media Puzzle. Smurfit appeared on this year’s Irish rich list with a fortune of $523 million, thanks to his stake in paper and packaging company Smurfit Kappa and other smaller investments.
  • Philip and Peter Vela, who won in 2001 with Ethereal. The Vela brothers were listed on the New Zealand rich list in 2000 with a fortune of $NZ50 million.

That the race has recently been dominated by wealthy entrepreneurs with a passion for racing is not that surprising. Finding the sort of horse that can win a Melbourne Cup requires patience — and in the racing game, patience requires deep pockets.

Williams, Santic, Smurfit and Dato Tan Chin Nam have sunk tens of millions into racing over the last few decades, breeding horses, buying horses, paying trainers and other staff, discarding non-performers and in some cases building their own training facilities.

So if finding the right rich lister is the key to picking the winner of the Melbourne Cup, which horses should punters be looking at?

Here is a list of the top contenders from the big-money stables:

  • So You Think and Precedence. Dato Tan Chin Nam and legendary trainer Bart Cummings have a strong hand in this year’s Cup, and may have as many as four horses in the race. However, there are two clear picks. Dual Cox Plate winner and rising champion So You Think is expected to try and emulate another Dato horse, Saintly, by winning the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup in the space of a few weeks. There are questions as to whether he can run out the 3200 metre distance of the Cup, but champions have a habit of achieving what seems difficult. His other top hope is Precedence, who has been prepared as Dato’s main Cup chance and won a key lead-up race.
  • Shocking. Laurence Eales’ Cup winner of 2009 looms as the horse to beat in this year’s edition, after a slashing fourth-placed finish in the Caulfield Cup when he was arguably unlucky. Proven at the distance, loves the Flemington track, and is a big hope to go back-to-back.
  • Zipping. Lloyd Williams’ best chance in the race appears to be the evergreen Zipping, who finished a strong second in the Cox Plate. While Zipping is probably not Williams’ strongest chance in recent years, the horse is tough and seasoned and is not without a good chance.
  • Campanologist. Billionaire Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and owner of the Godolphin and Darley stables, has been trying to win the Melbourne Cup for a number of years, and this year returns with Campanologist. However, it’s a long shot hope which has never run in Australia.
  • Profound Beauty. Irish galloper Profound Beauty is owned by Swiss billionaire Walter Haefner, who is aged 100 and is described by Forbes as the world’s oldest billionaire. The bulk of Haefner’s $3.3 billion fortune comes from his shareholding in US tech giant Computer Associates; he acquired his 24 per cent stake when he sold his data processing business to the company in 1968. Profound Beauty ran fifth in the 2008 Melbourne Cup, and is an outside chance this time around.
  • Manighar. British horse Manighar has been brought to Australia specifically to win the Cup and looks a good chance after a nice run in the Caulfield Cup. The horse is raced by a group of locals in partnership with US rich lister Earle Mack, who is a New York property developer and former US ambassador to Finland between 2004 and 2005. Mack was previously listed on Forbes’ list of richest Americans with a $400 million fortune.
  • Once Were Wild. Veteran advertising and media tycoon John Singleton (who is worth about $240 million) has poured millions into racing over more than three decades, and has won most of the big races around the country. His Melbourne Cup hope is AJC Oaks winner Once Were Wild, who is an outside chance at best.

In summary, there’s a big chance this year’s Cup will again end up in the trophy cabinet of a wealthy entrepreneur. Laurence Eales’ horse Shocking is the best chance, ahead of Dato Tan Chin Nam’s So You Think. If you are looking for a roughie, stick with Earle Mack’s horse Manighar.

Good luck punters!

*This was first published in SmartCompany

Peter Fray

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