Official program from the Nathan Berry memorial.

Official program from the Nathan Berry memorial.

Two mounted officers on retired racehorses waited by the coffin as clouds gathered and mourners moved inside. Sitting by the doors of The Grand Pavilion were Nathan Berry’s riding crop, helmet and polished boots.

Waiting there, too, within sight of the turf at Rosehill Racecourse, was a guard of honour formed by perhaps a hundred jockeys, among them Melbourne Cup winners Darren Beadman and Glen Boss. Trainer Gai Waterhouse also stood nearby as the horse racing family united in strength to farewell Berry, who died last Thursday.

Family and friends were asked to wear blue in tribute to Berry’s racing strip. And so they came, cast in blue, in their hundreds, holding funeral booklets with a photograph of the 23-year-old jockey with his hands thrust in the air in joy, after winning the Magic Millions, in January.

Berry’s twin brother Tommy, who rode the winner in last year’s Golden Slipper, told the large crowd that Nathan was born 14 minutes before him. “I looked up to him so much,” he said. He recalled how, as boys, they slept together in the bottom half of bunk beds, “just so we could be together”. “He has left a massive hole in my heart and it will never be filled,” he said.

Berry’s widow Whitney described her husband as “my pillar of strength, my comfort, my hero”. “He made me feel so safe, special and loved,” she said.

They were married in February, on a sunny day in Terrey Hills. Little more than a month later, she sat crying beside Berry’s hospital bed after he was struck down by Norse syndrome, an acute and mysterious form of epilepsy.

He turned to her and said: “Please don’t cry babe, everything is going to be fine and I love you.” They liked to say to each other “together forever”.

Berry’s death was so sudden many are still struggling to make sense of it. He collapsed during trackwork after a promising start to the season in Singapore and died last Thursday, after being air-lifted home to Sydney.

Mourners remembered him as a chubby boy who started riding ponies with his brother at age five, with ambitions of being a jockey. The twins were made to wear either blueberry or raspberry colours on the track so trainers could tell them apart.

Berry’s aunt Christine Callinan remembered her nephew as a young man with a “beautiful, kind and cheeky nature”, who always made sure to say hello to everyone in the room.  

Berry’s father-in-law and fellow jockey Glyn Schofield reminded mourners that Berry won two races on his last day in the saddle. “His last ride was a winner,” he said.

The crowd then gathered outside to release blue balloons into the sky. Tommy Berry stopped to kiss his brother’s coffin twice. Whitney held on to the coffin for a long time, before horses led the hearse away.