After a costume change that would have done a superhero proud, Brett Prebble emerged from the jockey's room for the race after the Great Race, still beaming, and walked into David Hayes' outstretched hand. ''Sorry, what's your name again?'' Hayes asked.
He was joking, of course. Yet Prebble well remembers a time when his was a name trainers didn't want to know. ''My old manager, Des O'Keefe, used to say to me, 'For every ride I get you there'd be a hundred who don't want you','' Prebble said of his younger self, adding ''arrogant'' and ''abrupt'' to an uncomfortable glance in his life's rear-view mirror. ''I was a bit of a ratbag as a kid.''
Prebble is 35 now, and happy with the reflection he sees each morning not only of the jockey, but of the man he has become. He credits ''a good wife'' - Maree Payne, from a family well versed in being good people as well as good with horses - and being a father with rounding out his edges.
A decade in Hong Kong has been an adult finishing school for the kid who moved from Ballarat to Terry O'Sullivan's stables in Stawell when barely in his teens, and already showing signs of an abundance of talent, and a level of self-confidence others would soon find grating.
''He always said he was going to be a top jockey,'' O'Sullivan said, having watched the race from his couch at home, proud as punch. ''He probably was reasonably arrogant, there were a few who thought he was a smart arse.''
O'Sullivan didn't mind, because Prebble worked as hard and fast as he talked. ''We probably clashed a few times, but no one was more dedicated or tried harder than Brett, he was always gunna be successful,'' he said, recalling sending him on a week's holiday and Prebble returning to the stables three days later, bored and desperate to get back into it.
He'd just turned 15 when he rode his first winner for O'Sullivan at Edenhope. ''I had to ask the owners to give him a ride - they didn't want him. I said, 'He rides a bit better than most of the jockeys who've been riding for years'.'' A week later he rode a double, and was soon doing so for fun; within 18 months he'd ridden out his claim and was headed for the big smoke.
''He was never gunna be riding in the bush for long,'' O'Sullivan said.
Dick Prebble, who died six years ago this month, was adamant his boy would have this day. ''He was very enthusiastic for me to be a jockey,'' his son said, with a laugh and a shake of the head.
His old man had first taken him to Arthur Clarke, who told him he'd get too big and should find another profession. ''So I left there crying at the age of 13.'' He has long counted this rejection as a blessing, for it delivered him to O'Sullivan, and from there to John Meagher, where he first caught Lloyd Williams' eye.
''Terry picked a good tutor for me in John Meagher, a good trainer, someone like Terry who gives you full opportunities when you're an apprentice,'' Prebble said, noting that there aren't many who do nowadays. ''It's hard - you've got to make them and train them and take them really as your own child. I was very fortunate to have two fantastic masters. I wouldn't be sitting up here without them.''
His debt of gratitude to Lloyd Williams spilled out on the way back to the mounting yard. ''That's for you boss,'' Prebble panted; he'd later reel off the past winners he was offered the ride on - Brew, Shocking, Dunaden, plus last year's runner-up Red Cadeaux - and remember the Melbourne Cup days he's returned home from, fit to kick the cat.
He has benefited from good support in Hong Kong, too. David Hall, who trained Makybe Diva to the first of her hat-trick of Cups, and the South African-born trainer Caspar Fownes have legged him up on many of the 500-plus winners he's ridden on racing's most exacting world stage. Two seasons ago he went within a single win of adding a Hong Kong Jockey's Club championship to his two Victorian titles.
''Hong Kong has made me appreciate life, appreciate what you get, and appreciate the people that help you get there,'' he said, holding Craig Williams up as the model of all a jockey must be today - dotting every 'i', crossing every 't'. ''Riding nowadays is probably 50 per cent of it. Look at Craig, he's the complete package, he's 100 per cent.''
He didn't want to sound cocky, but admitted he'd felt confident a mile from home. Straightening up, he remembered an old mentor saying count to 10, Hall stretching it to 15. ''I counted to five!''
After crossing the line, he shared a hands-held salute with James McDonald, who was closing on Fiorente but never going to get there. O'Sullivan smiled, remembering taking Prebble to the New Zealander's father's farm when McDonald was 10, the kid posing for a photo with the grown-up he dreamed of becoming.
Prebble is happy with who he is. His only concern last night was whether he'd have to jet it back to Hong Kong to take up a full book of rides at Happy Valley on Wednesday; he remembered the HK Jockey Club taking pity on Gerald Mosse two years ago, and was planning to make a phone call.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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