Chester - At The Races

Marwan Koukash

    Top owner Marwan Koukash’s passion for racing was sparked on the Roodee and his love affair with Chester has seen him win four Chester Cups.

By Tony Elves

MARWAN KOUKASH once again looks to adopt a blueprint that he hopes will make him the undisputed “King Of Chester” when SHABEEBspearheads a possible three-horse challenge for the Chester Cup on the Roodee next Friday.

The Palestinian-born businessman acquired Shabeeb in similar circumstances to those that had proven so successful 12 months ago when his Magic Circle turned one of the most competitive handicaps of the Flat season into a procession, the now-retired Fran Berry producing the Ian Williams-trained gelding to lead over a furlong out and swept clear for a six-length win from Fun Mac.

Magic Circle was having his first run for Williams after being bought at the Horses-In-Training Sales for 70,000gns in Autumn 2017 and was trained with military precision for the big day and Shabeeb, acquired for 58,000gns at the July Sales last will be having his first run for the trainer and his first outing since winning for Roger Varian at Newmarket in May of last year.

Marwan said: “When we bought Shabeeb in July, Ian knew quite a lot about the horse and knew he could be much better than he had shown even though he won his last start for Roger Varian and sometimes you have to be lucky to come across horses like that.”

“We were lucky enough to have gone to the sales and bought Magic Circle and we think of Shabeeb in the same way. I remember when Ian bought him it was so that he could win an Ebor or a Chester Cup so we thought let’s keep him fresh and give him a summer/winter break and physically he looks much better than when we bought him.

“He worked the other day with Magic Circle at Haydock after racing and he looked very impressive and we are counting down the days to the Chester Cup.

“Hopefully, Shabeeb, Magic Circle and RESTORER will run and we hope that one of them at the least gets a decent draw. I still think Restorer can be a stayer - the last race he ran in on turf, the November Handicap - he was staying on. He also likes Chester and you couldn’t rule him out either.”

Restorer stays on well in the November Handicap on Town Moor.

The jury is still out on whether MAGIC CIRCLE will bid for a back-to-back win in the race as he has 10st 2lb in the Cup and is 15lb higher in the ratings than 12 months ago.

Marwan said: “It was a great performance by Magic Circle last year and even if he had a stone more on his back he would still have won, he had so much left in him that day.

“He proved that in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown and it’s a shame things didn’t work out his way in the Melbourne Cup as it’s a race I thought we could have won with him." 

"My preference would be for him to try and go back there and I am 75% sure Ian is thinking about the Ormonde Stakes and I will have to convince him (if we are to go for the Chester Cup).”

Magic Circle wins the 2018 Chester Cup for Marwan Koukash, Ian Williams and Fran Berry.

Koukash had first taken an interest in racing 12 years ago when invited to a corporate event at Haydock by his bank manager and was so impressed that he thought that a day at the races could have even more spark with runner.

“I thoroughly enjoyed that first visit and I got introduced to Ian Williams and he bought me a horse called Tufton. Two weeks later we tried recreate the same environment as on that occasion. We invited the same people but, unfortunately, Tufton hadn’t read the script and finished last.”

Williams was soon to correct the situation as he was off to the Horse-In-Training Sales in October, 2007 where he acquired the horse that well and truly had Koukash hooked on Chester and the Chester Cup in particular.

“Shortly after that first runner, Ian went a bought a horse for me called Bulwark. He told me he could run in big races for me the next year and that there was a big race at Chester called the Chester Cup. He said you could have a runner in the Cup and that it’s a nice place to visit but Bulwark was a bit of monkey.”

“I told him I didn’t want a monkey but a horse that could run and the following May we took him to Chester – I think he started the morning at 66-1 and was sent off at 33-1 – I think he was the total outsider and it was my first visit to Chester.”

“After we saw the horse go out of the parade ring I got stuck in the crowd towards the fence trying to watch the race but I was six or seven deep and could hardly see anything. The only thing I could hear was the name Bulwark being mentioned a few times and the only reason for that was that he was sitting last.

“With two furlongs to go he was still sitting last and with all the commotion I could just hear Bulwark’s name being mentioned again and again and I didn’t know what was the result.”

“I asked a guy next to me what won the race and he tore up his betting slip and said ‘bloody Bulwark’. I told him that was my horse and I ran back into the parade ring and that was probably the day I fell in love with racing also fell in love with Chester.”

That certainly lit up Marwan’s enthusiasm for horse racing as he divulged his expansion plan to Ian Williams.

“I had three or four horses and at the end of the meeting I was having a cigarette and I told Ian that next season I was going to have a 100 horses and he said “What are you smoking?” “I said ‘mate trust me I am going to have a hundred horses’ – I don’t say something and then don’t do it. The rest is history!”

The rest is certainly history as Marwan took the second of his Chester Cups when Address Unknown won in 2013 and was quickly followed by Suegioo in 2014.

Suegioo wins the 2014 Chester Cup for Marwan Koukash, Ian Williams and Ryan Moore.

Magic Circle helped Koukash join a very exclusive club when winning last year and should either Shabeeb, Magic Circle or Restore prevail this time then he will become the first owner to have won the Cup five times.

Marwan said: “I think I have had close to 80 winners at Chester and I have won the Chester Cup four times. That equals the record of the great Barry Hills and Lester Piggott. Both of them won the race four times and if I win it again I am in unique company. If I have the record for myself I will be the undisputed King of Chester.”

Koukash will no doubt celebrate in his own ebullient style should he gain his crown and is all geared up for next week’s meeting.

He said: “As usual I will go along with the family and it is a meeting I look forward to all the year. I am not superstitious, and I don’t have to wear the same suit or the same shirt.; What is important is that I have as many runners as I can – I think we will probably cover 17 of the 21 races. It’s not just about the Chester Cup and we will have chances elsewhere at the meeting as well.

“My racing season starts at Chester and you could have the horses in top form but you need the draw but you do need a good horse as well. All we can hope for is to have the horses ready and get a good draw on the day.

I don’t go out of my way to be extravagant; it is just pure passion and if I overdo it, as I probably did with Magic Circle last year, it is because of the thrill. If you can’t show your passions after a race that you have hoped to win all year then there is no point in being involved in racing.”

“I am that sort of character that shows his emotions in everything I do and whether it’s racing or rugby I was never the typical club owner with Salford and I celebrated in my own way.

“I am proud of who I am – if the other owners want to act in a more dignified way it is up to them but I show my emotions and I am proud of that. I have had more than 500 winners in racing and trust me I have celebrated each single winner.”

Marwan Koukash
Marwan Koukash celebrates Magic Circle's Chester Cup victory in 2018.