Loud suits, louder antics: Meet Rich Ricci, the millionaire behind the Cup favourite
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It was once said of Rich Ricci, the flamboyant American owner of this year’s Melbourne Cup favourite, that if he did not exist, it might be difficult to invent him.
Self-described as the “maddest f—er on the planet”, Ricci has become a much-loved figure among punters on English and Irish racetracks, and of the sport’s most colourful identities.
Rich Ricci, the owner of Vauban, at the Melbourne Cup barrier draw.Credit: Getty Images
His prescription dark glasses, loud check bespoke three-piece suits (with a pink waistcoat on more formal occasions), trilby hat and big personality are his trademark. The investment banker’s first love is for jumps racing and his remarkable success and partnership with Irish trainer Willie Mullins, spanning almost 20 years, has brought a certain star quality to the sport, with a sprinkling of American wise cracks, if not raising the odd eyebrow or two along the way.
With Vauban, Ricci and Mullins are seeking a first success in the Cup, having previously come close to glory with Max Dynamite, a half-length second in 2015 before finishing third two years later, when Ricci’s pink and green silks were also carried by sixth home Thomas Hobson.
Rich Ricci at the Melbourne Cup preview event at Petanque Social.Credit: Justin McManus
“To target the Melbourne Cup you need the right horse – and this guy is the right horse,” Ricci told this masthead. “With both Max and Thomas Hobson, the Melbourne Cup was probably an opportunistic and optimistic afterthought. With Vauban, it has been a plan.
“I spoke about wanting to target the Melbourne Cup when I was interviewed straight after the Triumph Hurdle, but this was really the plan from the time we bought him. We’ve always thought he has so much talent that he might be the one.
“This is such a special place and I was so impressed with how we were treated when we first came down.”
Despite his rock-star media performances and trackside antics, where he famously cannot bear the stress of watching the race live, Ricci – like most of the wealthy owners – values his privacy and jealously guards it. The horse runs under the name of his wife, Susannah, who runs a winery in the west Kent countryside. She chose their now-famed racing colours of pink and fluorescent green after having a handbag of a similar design.
Ricci was for a long time depicted as the poster boy of banking excess in the UK tabloids, having received a £44 million payout when he left UK bank Barclays a decade ago after previously being co-chief executive of their investment banking arm.
Born in Ohio to Italian and German immigrant parents, little has been chronicled about his rise to prominence in the banking sector. He was once summed up by a fellow bank director as: “He’s bald and he gets shit done – that’s all we know.”
A star hurdler that switched to flat races as part of a long-range Cup plan, Vauban climbed to the top of Melbourne Cup betting markets when he won by seven-and-a-half lengths in the Copper Horse Handicap at Royal Ascot in June, and has stayed there. His form at the international quarantine centre at Werribee since arriving in Australia, under the watchful eye of Mullins’ right-hand man David Casey, has been the talk of the track. Jockey Ryan Moore, winner of the 2014 Cup on Protectionist, will take the reins.
Vauban, ridden by David Casey, at Flemington in the lead-up to the Cup.Credit: Getty Images
“As well as having the right horse and jockey, you also need the right trainer, and when I say that I mean both Willie and David, who has done such a brilliant job for us in Australia. I think you need the right owner because you’ve got to have the stones to put up the money to come – you get no help. All up I think the cost is about £150,000, which is the price of a horse. It’s a massive punt. And then you need a some luck.”
Mullins, who has been trying to win the Melbourne Cup for 20 years, says Vauban has the right credentials and is his best chance of providing him success. The Irishman, part of a racing dynasty, has changed the landscape of jumps racing in his home country and Britain, largely through the massive financial backing of Ricci. He has 94 Cheltenham Festival winners, more than any other trainer in history, and has won every major prize, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times, the Champion Hurdle four times, and the Grand National.
Named after a 17th century French military engineer who revolutionised the art of siege craft and defensive fortifications, Vauban was his ninth winner at Royal Ascot on the flats.
“He’s my strongest chance ever, and he may even be (in future) my strongest chance ever,” Mullins said, while acknowledging stablemate Absurde could also figure strongly in the finish.
“Everything has gone right, we’ve got a nice draw, the quarantine has gone right, we just need to break now and get into a position, but I’ll leave that to the jockeys. They know the track better than I do, they know the opposition better than I do.”
Japanese trainer Tatsuya Yoshioka said barrier 18 would suit his horse, Breakup, as he hopes to improved on his eighth place in the Caulfield Cup behind winner Without A Fight a fortnight ago.
Speaking through a translator, Yoshioka put that down to a hot tempo and being first-up from a long break.
“Since the race he’s really conditioned up, he’s tightened up and looks better and feels better, so I’m happy with him,” Yoshioka said.
“He came all the way from Japan to race in this Melbourne Cup – he’s here to win, so we hope he will.”
Two-time Cup winner Joseph O’Brien, who was forced to scratch Valiant King on the weekend, won’t make the trip to Melbourne but will saddle up Okita Soushi. The talented stayer jumped into the field after a number of withdrawals in the past fortnight but finished 10 lengths behind the Caulfield Cup winner.
O’Brien said the horse was in great shape and he was hoping for a good run from him.
“I certainly think whoever can beat Willie’s horse will win the race,” he said. “We’ve obviously been very fortunate to win it twice, but it’s a very strong field again this year.”
While Ricci won’t fix eyes on the race itself, he will have an ear out for a number of locally trained threats.
“Gold Trip ran a great race in the Cox Plate. He’s carrying a bit more weight this year, but he’s certainly a danger. You’ve got Soulcombe, you’ve got More Felons now, who we knew as Scriptwriter – there’s a bunch of local horses that I think are the danger,” he said.
“I would absolutely love to win it. Fortune will hopefully favour the brave.”
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