Ballarat owners dreaming big with Melbourne Cup runner

A group of friends from Ballarat are set to live out a dream on Tuesday when their horse runs in the nation’s greatest race.

ALL SET: Big Duke at the beach in Warrnambool last week.

ALL SET: Big Duke at the beach in Warrnambool last week.

The syndicate of five own a share in Big Duke, who is one of three Darren Weir-trained gallopers set to run in the Melbourne Cup.

The syndicate members include plumber Sam Murphy, accountant Rohan Gilchrist, tilers Glen McKenzie and John Wicks and concreter Damian Toohey.

The start of the group’s success was through the purchase of Get The Dukes Out, who won two races before being sold to owners in Hong Kong. From the proceeds of that transfer, the friends invested in group 1 winner Tosen Stardom, the promising but now injured Plein Ciel and the talented Articus, who ran in last year’s Caulfield Cup.

Big Duke was next in line and he has proven a star, winning the group 3 Launceston Cup, group 3 Manion Cup and group 2 Chairman’s Handicap among his triumphs in Australia.

In total, the former English galloper, who raced overseas under the name of Swashbuckling, has won more than $1million and heads into Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup on the back of a fourth-placed finish in the group 2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup.

Gilchrist said all of the friends operate their own small business and that meeting at the track to watch their horses is a way of “switching off”.

He said the key to the syndicate is to reinvest any prizemoney and sale proceeds to ensure they're in the industry for the next 30 years.

Big Duke, a $21 chance, has drawn barrier five for Tuesday’s race and will be ridden by Brenton Avdulla.

Weir also has $9 second favourite Humidor (barrier 13) and $17 shot Amelie’s Star (barrier 10) in the $6million event.

The Ballarat trainer won the race in 2015 when Prince of Penzance prevailed as a massive outsider for local jockey Michelle Payne.

Ballan-based syndicators Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock has import Tiberian as a $31 chance after drawing wide in gate 23, while former Ballarat boy Ben Melham is set to ride well fancied $10 hope Johannes Vermeer.