Around the World in 80 Races

The family business that gives clients a taste of the world’s most premier horse racing events.

By Nikki Stefanoff. Photography by Marija Ivkovic.

For a man so passionate about all things equine it’s a surprise to hear that World Racing Tours’ Tony Perry doesn’t ride. “Nope,” he laughs when asked. “My wife Kate [O’Sullivan] does, but not me, and our daughter is more into soccer!” This lack of riding skills hasn’t stopped him from launching a successful travel business based on a love of horses and, more specifically, watching them race.

Perry hasn’t always been involved in horse racing or, indeed, the travel industry. In fact, his expertise has long been rooted in hospitality; however, a love of travel became pronounced when, in the wake of selling his share in a number of successful Melbourne-based hotels and pubs, he spent two years living on the island of Penang with O’Sullivan and their then nine-year old daughter Georgia.

“After selling the business we decided to spend some time overseas as we wanted Georgia to experience something a little bit different,” he explains. “The move back to Victoria came when Georgia was ready to start high school. It just so happened to coincide with Kate being offered a role on the board of Moonee Valley Racing Club. Perfect timing, really.”

A love of horses and all they represent runs deeply in O’Sullivan’s family, with both her father and brother involved in the racing industry. It was her passion, and knowledge, combined with Perry’s love of travel and hospitality that inspired the couple to launch World Racing Tours, a company taking groups to horse races around the world.

“We launched in 2011 with a trip to the Penang Sprint Trophy, which was nerve-racking to say the least,” Perry says. “We were confident in our knowledge as far as the racing industry went; however, the hardest thing for us was learning the travel business. We worked hard for the 12 months before launch attending every race we wanted to host and making those all-important overseas contacts.”

Building lasting relationships has been an integral part of the businesses success as every aspect of a World Racing Tours trip is centred on providing a unique experience for guests. This means luxury accommodation, fine dining experiences, corporate hosting at all events and curated day trips when there’s no racing to attend.

“Other than the racing experience, our number one objective is to ensure that we’re always providing the very best for our guests,” Perry says. “Kate, in particular, worked really hard at forging relationships with hotels, restaurants and airlines, which has been fantastic. We’ve always had good relationships with racing clubs around the world, as they’re traditionally very welcoming, so the combination has meant that we can offer something truly unique.”

With trips to Royal Ascot and the Kentucky Derby on its books, World Racing Tours is helping to turn the bucket list dreams of the racing fraternity into reality. However, as travelling with a companion can be an intimate experience at the best of times, how harmonious do they find travelling with a group of strangers with only one thing in common? “It’s true to say that the group dynamics are integral to the success of a trip,” Perry says. “We’ve been so lucky to have always attracted likeminded people who are passionate about racing and who have gelled together really well.”

He does admit that there has been one guest who wouldn’t be invited back, but, ever the professional, Perry won’t elaborate with anything more than a chuckle.

The Royal Ascot itinerary is a perfect example of what one could expect on an overseas tour with Perry and O’Sullivan. Being one of the social events of the English season this race always draws a huge crowd. Busy with the general public, celebrities and royals alike, Ascot’s entertainment value is unprecedented. Not only do you get to experience first-class racing, you’re also free to enjoy the – sometimes questionable – fashion choices and ‘let loose’ behaviour of the punters. On a World Racing Tour trip, however, there is less of the Pimm’s, planet-sized fascinators and raucous singing, and more VIP corporate hosting while you sip champers in the Royal Enclosure.

“Royal Ascot is such an incredible event and we like to offer the whole experience, which means heading into the Royal Enclosure for a day,” says Perry. “Our guests get to see the Queen, as well as any other royals in attendance. It’s a lot of fun and, I have to admit, we do tend to have a sing-song at some point in proceedings.”

Travelling so much, as well as running a business, while parents to a school-age child is not for the faint-hearted, but Perry and O’Sullivan’s daughter Georgia seems to be just as unfazed, tenacious and driven as her parents, as an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show Ellen attests.

“Georgia ended up on Ellen after Portia di Rossi, Ellen’s wife and fellow Aussie, visited her school, which Portia used to attend. While she and Ellen were there, Georgia was pushed forward by a classmate. She then ended up singing for them at a special performance in front of 12,000 people,” Perry says. “So we were flown to LA to tape Ellen. Georgia sang again and, after it aired, she was offered a three-record deal.” Now, how many pre-teens can say that?

With a potential superstar in the family and an increasingly successful business to attend to it may seem that Perry and O’Sullivan have their hands full, but he thinks otherwise. “We’ve definitely got plans to expand the business,” Perry says. “We don’t want to move away from what we love, so any future new tours will still be run by the family, and we're looking to expand into offering worldwide trips to equestrian events. Watch this space.”

After chatting to Perry for a while it seems foolish to let a man who spends so much of his time at the racing track go without asking if he’s got any good tips to share. “Unfortunately not,” he laughs. “Tipping is not for us, we’re all about the social side of racing.” Ah well, it was worth a try.