Koukash to string out Magic mo­ment

Sunday Tasmanian - - News - PETER BADEL

COLOUR­FUL. Crazy. Con­tro­ver­sial. Ec­cen­tric. Filthy rich bil­lion­aire.

These are just some of the terms used to de­scribe Mar­wan Koukash, the Mid­dle East­ern mav­er­ick who has a fair claim to be­ing the most flam­boy­ant fig­ure among the 90,000 who will flock to Flem­ing­ton on Tues­day for the Mel­bourne Cup.

But there is an­other word that best en­cap­su­lates the larger-than-life owner of Magic Cir­cle. Sur­vivor.

“Win­ning is sur­vival,” says Koukash, aware Magic Cir­cle is rated among the lead­ing chances to salute at Flem­ing­ton and de­liver him a cov­eted Mel­bourne Cup tri­umph.

“The de­sire to win is the hard­ship I’ve had.”

The Mel­bourne Cup has seen an as­sort­ment of rich Sheiks, bomb­shell blondes and colour­ful char­ac­ters, but it’s fair to say Koukash is in a manic league of his own.

The 59-year-old has al­ready promised to light up Flem­ing­ton by run­ning around in a grey-coloured G-string if Magic Cir­cle romps home.

But be­hind the histri­on­ics and hy­per­bole is a re­mark­able story of hu­man spirit. There was no sil­ver spoon for a young Koukash, who en­coun­tered poverty well be­fore Porsches and pen­nies.

At the age of nine, he was a refugee, forced to flee his birth­place Pales­tine amid the rav­ages of a war he was too young to com­pre­hend.

By 12, he was a child sol­dier given a chill­ing mes­sage as a gun was placed in his youth­ful hands – kill or be killed.

Koukash hap­pily jokes he is “cer­ti­fi­ably mad”, but he is no­body’s fool. The lessons learned walk­ing 72 hours through arid, life-threat­en­ing ter­rain to a world of free­dom has un­der­pinned the will-to-win in busi­ness and sport that has seen him amass an es­ti­mated for­tune of $3 bil­lion.

“In that en­vi­ron­ment, I had to learn how to sur­vive,” he says.

“Sur­viv­ing war forged my be­liefs and made me a stronger per­son.

“I remember liv­ing a very sim­ple life in Pales­tine. We had no run­ning water or elec­tric­ity. We ate what­ever we could grow. In 1967, a war be­gan and we be­came refugees overnight. My fam­ily walked for three days, over moun­tains and down to the Jor­dan River where I lived in a refugee camp for three years.”

Koukash then tells a story that is sim­ply in­con­gru­ous for the type of blue-col­lar Aus­tralian who will rub shoul­ders with him at Flem­ing­ton.

In 1970, civil war broke out on the banks of the Jor­dan River.

Trapped in a world of blood­shed, Koukash had to fight his way out.

“I be­came a boy sol­dier, just like that,” he says.

“The older boys would train me on how to carry a gun and shoot.

“If you didn’t shoot, then you would get shot your­self. We were fight­ing in the streets.

“I have a very dif­fer­ent life now but I still never for­get that time. De­spite what I went through, Pales­tine will al­ways be in my heart.

“What I have got now in life it is down to hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“Those early years shaped my life and my at­ti­tude. If I want some­thing, I don’t give up un­til I get it.”

They are omi­nous words as Koukash sets his sights on a Mel­bourne Cup suc­cess. He has been to Flem­ing­ton be­fore, first in 2009, when his maiden Cup run­ner Mun­sef fin­ished 12th.

Bit­ten by the Cup bug, the for­mer owner of English rugby league club Sal­ford re­turned with Mount Athos, who fin­ished fifth in 2012 be­fore back­ing up the fol­low­ing year with a third plac­ing that gave Koukash rea­son to dream.

Now, he is adamant Magic Cir­cle can de­liver his magic mo­ment.

“I truly be­lieve Magic Cir­cle is a bet­ter horse than Mount Athos,” he said. “You need a horse that can travel, which he does, and has a turn of foot. This is my best chance by far. I have had three horses in the Mel­bourne Cup, so hope­fully this is third time lucky.”

And, like the Mel­bourne Cup, Koukash is ready to stop the na­tion.

If Magic Cir­cle salutes, brace for Koukash to go berserk. Be­neath the ve­neer of a flash suit will be a tai­lor­made G-string that will be un­veiled in all its glory, de­spite ner­vous Flem­ing­ton of­fi­cials warn­ing Koukash against any mad-cap cel­e­bra­tions.

“I have a G-string ready to go. I will streak if I win the Mel­bourne Cup,” he says. “I have the thong there, I’ve had it tai­lor-made. Win­ning the Mel­bourne Cup would be as ex­cit­ing as the first time you have sex.

“I know the bosses at Flem­ing­ton are get­ting a bit ner­vous about it. They want to have a chat with me but hope­fully they lis­ten to me as well. It might not be the nor­mal thing to do, but you have to un­der­stand I am a crazy per­son. I think I am cer­ti­fied as a crazy per­son. “The G-string is grey coloured with a cir­cle and ‘Magic’ writ­ten on the top. The cir­cle is po­si­tioned where my pri­vate parts are but I don’t want peo­ple to think that my pri­vate parts are magic. It’s just the name of the horse.”

Those early years shaped my life and my at­ti­tude. If I want some­thing, I don’t give up un­til I get it. MAR­WAN KOUKASH

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