'They call me an enigma, they call me eccentric, they call me a madman'
David Jennings meets the owner loving his participation in the big race
When you have spent the last three weeks tucking into Tim Tams, scrutinising trackwork before 7am and replacing starting stalls with barriers in your vocabulary, there is something comforting about seeing a familiar figure who reminds you of home.
The top hat is a clue. The pink shirt and light green tie are other hints. The sunglasses give it away. Correct, it is racing's very own version of onomatopoeia.
Rich Ricci is exactly the way his christian name sounds. He is rich, but not just in monetary terms, but with his time too. He is always great fun to chat to and you always come away from the conversation with a bigger smile on your face than you started with.
We're in the Phar Lap marquee at Flemington racecourse and the barrier draw for the Emirates Melbourne Cup has just been completed. Ricci is sipping champagne, posing for selfies and being tremendously generous with his time to anyone who stops to say hello.
What will he be like if Max Dynamite or Thomas Hobson wins the world's most famous Flat race on Tuesday? The party might only stop in time to see the Supreme Novices' Hurdle for which he is almost guaranteed to have the favourite.
"They call me an enigma, they call me eccentric, they call me a madman. I don't know what they actually think of me but the one thing I do know is that the people have always been very, very kind to me. I enjoy coming out here every time," Ricci says.
"You're not treated as well as this anywhere else in the world. With all due respect to my favourite racecourses at Cheltenham and Royal Ascot, they're just different gravy altogether here.
"If I can give something back to the people and spend a bit of time with them at a function like this, I will. It's easy for me. I enjoy it. Whether they like me or not, that's for them to decide."
They love you, Rich, but they love your horses more and everyone wants to know which one of them is the best – Max Dynamite or Thomas Hobson?
"The fact that the Magic Man [Joao Moreira] wants to ride Thomas Hobson so much is really interesting. He obviously sees something that I don't," he says, implying that the Ascot Stakes winner may well be the number one hope in the Ricci camp.
"If we get a slow pace, we all know that Max has the turn of foot to make himself a player. If they go gung-ho from the start, then hopefully Thomas Hobson will be able to come through to pick up the pieces.
"I think we have a nice balance between the two and, I have to admit, I'll be bitterly disappointed if they both don't run well. I would be hoping they'll both finish in the first ten, if not better."
Ricci says: "The draw could have been a bit better but I'm not too worried. Last year Heartbreak City came from 23 and the same jockey rode him to finish second.
"The problem with Thomas Hobson is that from so far out he could just go boom and take off. If he does, we're doomed but that's the risk you take.
"Max is better drawn in two and Zac Purton rides. We all know how well he ran in the race two years ago and we all know that he possesses a potent turn of foot, so fingers crossed he'll get to show that."
Ricci openly admits he is a jumps man and Flat racing is just a pastime, albeit one he really enjoys. So, what would it mean to him to win a Melbourne Cup two years after going so close with Max Dynamite.
"We're National Hunt people and I just love National Hunt racing," he replies. "Top of my list is the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and any race at Cheltenham, then you have all the top races at Punchestown, which I always love to win.
"To be able to participate in the Melbourne Cup is extraordinary. This is one of the world's great sporting events. From the racecourse, to the nursery where everyone is having picnics, to the birdcage where all these wonderful events take place.
"I saw Usain Bolt being a DJ today. Come on, where in the world would you see that? Only at Flemington. It's extraordinary. It would be magic to win it."
Ricci has opened his wallet and sent Max Dynamite, Thomas Hobson and Riven Light on a 10,000-mile journey to the other side of the world. Such a venture is not cheap and is estimated to have cost him the guts of €300,000, so it is hardly surprising that the primary objective is to pick up some prize-money.
"I would love to cover the cost of the horses being brought down. If we were to win with one of them, gosh it would be a dream come true, but it would be nice to pick up some prize-money and hopefully they can both finish in the top ten."
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