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James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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How Rich-lister Lloyd Williams came to ‘own’ the 2013 Melbourne Cup – and why not everyone’s happy

Published 04 November 2013 08:23, Updated 04 November 2013 12:47

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How Rich-lister Lloyd Williams came to ‘own’ the 2013 Melbourne Cup – and why not everyone’s happy

Lloyd Williams, who focuses almost entirely on winning the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups and the Cox Plate, will have six runners in the Melbourne Cup. He won the $6 million race last year with Green Moon. Photo: Paul Rovere

Lloyd Williams magnificent obsession with the Melbourne Cup will reach its zenith on Tuesday when six of his horses – a staggering quarter of the field – will run in the race that stops a nation.

The Williams team, running in his distinctive navy and white colours, will include highly-regarded English stayer Sea Moon; the winner of the Caulfield Cup, Fawkner; last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Green Moon; imported runners Seville and Masked Marvel; and the outsider Mourayan.

Incredibly, four of the horses (Sea Moon, Fawkner, Green Moon and Seville) are drawn next to each other in barriers seven to 10. That has given rise to accusations from British trainer Ed Dunlop, who has Red Cadeaux in the race, that Williams and his team could control the pace of the race.

Team riding is a feature of English racing, but is illegal in Australia and Williams has dismissed Dunlop’s comments as “extremely bad manners”.

Williams says he always planned to have a big team in the Cup, and his armada is the result of 12 months of planning.

Williams ranked at 47 on the 2013 BRW Rich 200 list, with a personal fortune of $805 million.

Lloyd’s son Nick Williams, who manages his racing operations, was thrilled at the barrier draw on Saturday evening.

“We set out with eight horses 12 months ago to win the Melbourne Cup and we’ll be taking six of them to Flemington. That is a great result,” Williams told Fairfax Media on Monday.

“I’m 73 and still just as passionate about winning the Melbourne Cup as I ever have been.”

Williams has won the race on four occasions – with Just a Dash in 1981, What A Nuisance in 1985, Efficient in 2007 and Green Moon in 2012 – but his big team in this year’s race underlines just how hard he’s trying to win it again.

Like many Australian owners, Williams has focused in recent years on importing overseas stayers to win what is now a very international cup. Five of his six runners in the 2013 edition have raced overseas previously, mainly in big races in England and Ireland.

The rush to import stayers has seen prices for sky rocket for Australian owners, but with an estimated fortune of $805 million on this year’s Rich 200, Williams has more firepower than most.

An example of this is Sea Moon, arguably Williams’ best chance on Tuesday. The horse, which is regarded as the one of the best credentialed imports in the race, was purchased by Williams in January for a reported $3 million.

Given first prize in the Melbourne Cup is $3.6 million, Team Williams will be hoping Sea Moon can win the day and pay his way.

The business of racing

Behind Williams’ weight of numbers (and money) lies what is one of the more sophisticated and ruthless racing operations in the country.

Based at Macedon Lodge in rural Victoria (which Williams purchased in 2007 for $5.5 million), the operation is officially headed by Williams’ private trainer Robert Hickmont, but as bookmaker Rob Waterhouse pointed out last week, it’s Lloyd Williams who calls the shots.

“Lloyd Williams is the best trainer of stayers in the world,” Waterhouse said. “He knows what the right horse is, and how to get them right on the right day . . . he has ideas which he is 100 per cent right with, and loves staying races. You won’t see him up there getting the Melbourne Cup, but he is very smart at getting the horses there at the top of its game, and enjoys that challenge.”

Williams’ dominance is best demonstrated by the fact that his horses currently hold the Melbourne Cup, the Sydney Cup, The Metropolitan and Caulfield Cup, the races considered the grand slam of staying in Australian racing.

And while it’s difficult to say if Williams is turning a profit from his massive investment in racing, it’s worth pointing out that his team won $6.8 million in prize money last year (with 24 winners from just 121 starters) and have already won $2.3 million in the racing season that started in August (with five winners from 50 runners).

Another way Williams gets a return on his investment is by selling horses that don’t make his grade – that is, they’re not good enough to win a Melbourne Cup. Several of these cast-offs have gone on to become good horses in their own right, but Williams isn’t interested in “good” horses.

Betting markets rate Sea Moon the best of Williams runners as a $13 chance, with Caufield Cup winner Fawkner and Seville both at $17. Green Moon is an outsider at $41.

Williams himself says he’ll be cheering loudest for Caulfield Cup winner Fawkner, the only one of his horses bred in Australia.

“I love it that he’s a home bred. That would be so satisfying, to think with this race is now truly international and a horse from our country beats the rest.

“I raced his sire [Reset] and wouldn’t it be marvellous for him to win the Cup and show that Australia can breed and own the winner of the Melbourne Cup.’’

Other Rich List chances

The Chris Waller-trained Foreteller has two Rich 200 list members as owners. PFD Food Services chief Richard Smith and Melbourne pub and pokies king Bruce Mathieson are part of a wider group that races the horse.

John Singleton’s quest to win the Cup continues with his horse Dear Demi. While the mare is an outsider, Singo hasn’t been afraid to put his money where is mouth is, backing it to win $4 million.

The Melbourne Cup doesn’t just attract Australia’s wealthiest. Previous winner Dunaden, who is given a good chance again this year, is owned by Sheikh Fahad al Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar.

Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai’s royal family will have Royal Empire in the race.

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