Koukash to string out Magic moment
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