AFTER a costume change that would have done a superhero proud, Brett Prebble emerged from the jockeys' room for the race after the great race, still beaming, perhaps even floating, and walked into David Hayes' outstretched hand. ''Sorry, what's your name again?'' Hayes asked.
He probably was reasonably arrogant, there were a few thought he was a smart arse.
He was joking, of course. Yet Prebble well remembers a time when his was a name trainers didn't want to know.
That winning feeling ... Trainer Robert Hickmott and Nick Williams hold the Melbourne Cup up over Brett Prebble's head. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
''My old manager, Des O'Keeffe, 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 now 35 and happy with the reflection he sees each morning - not only of the jockey, but of the man he has become. He credits having ''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 into his teens, and already showing signs of an abundance of talent, and a level of self-confidence that others would soon find grating.
Allow me...Nick Williams gives Brett Prebble a leg-up after the Cup. Photo: Jason South
''He always said he was going to be a top jockey,'' O'Sullivan said on Tuesday, having watched the race from his couch at home, proud as punch. ''He probably was reasonably arrogant, there were a few 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 at one stage, and Prebble returning to the stables three days later, bored and desperate to get back into it.
He had 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 had outridden his claim and was headed for the big smoke.
A triumphant Brett Prebble returns to scale after the race. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
''He was never gunna be riding in the bush for long,'' O'Sullivan said. He only had him for a short time, but long enough for Prebble's father to reactivate his jockey's licence and ride in a few races against his son. Dick Prebble, who died six years ago, 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 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 Williams spilled out of him on the way back to the mounting yard. ''That's for you boss,'' Prebble panted. He would 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 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 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 T, crossing every I. ''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 had felt very confident a mile from home in the Cup. Straightening up, he remembered an old mentor saying you 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 runner-up Fiorente. O'Sullivan smiled, remembering taking Prebble to New Zealand and going to McDonald's father's farm. And of McDonald, then 10, 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 back to Hong Kong to take up a full book of rides at Happy Valley tonight. He remembered the Hong Kong Jockey Club taking pity on Gerald Mosse two years ago, and was planning to make a phone call.
He had a word of thanks for many, not least Hall, who knew what it was to win the Cup, and walked away from the chance to do it all over. ''Today, to get this feeling, it'd be hard to not want to stay and have it again.''