Jockey Nathan Berry. Photo: Jenny Evans
Somewhere in the dawn, as the sun rose over trackwork at Singapore's Kranji racecourse, Corey Brown saw the first signs of Nathan Berry slipping away.
He wasn't there when Berry collapsed as he took a break between rides, but he was there minutes later.
"I was sitting 50 metres away from where it happened," Brown explains. "Where he was sitting with [trainer] Pat Shaw, people were congregating around. Then ambulance officers were there. I didn't know who it was. A minute later, I saw them take off the person's skullcap, and I knew it was Nathan's. That's when I went up there."
Inseparable: Jockey Nathan Berry and his twin brother Tommy. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
Brown has been riding in Singapore for a year, and he knew what many had been predicting - that Berry's career was about to launch into the realm of superstardom. Finally, it was all about to happen.
"He'd only been here for two minutes," Brown says from Singapore. "He looked like he was about to take Singapore by storm, and two days later he was in intensive care. It's hard to comprehend, being in our game. It's different if there's a race fall. To have this, at such a young age, to happen so suddenly without warning, it's just ..."
On Saturday, at Rosehill Gardens, they will run the $3.5 million Golden Slipper, but the richest race in the world for two-year-olds will be secondary to an industry's sorrow and grief.
Many in the industry - which in these times actually reveals itself to be a family - knew on Monday that Berry had succumbed to Norse Syndrome, an acute and mysterious form of epilepsy.
It first revealed itself in Berry that morning in Singapore, just over a fortnight ago.
On Thursday, having been airlifted to Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, his life support was turned off.
The absurdity of it all is that this should have been the biggest week of the 23-year-old's life, not his last.
He should be right there in the Rosehill enclosure just before 5pm, blocking out the heaving crowd and climbing aboard Unencumbered, the crack Testa Rossa colt he adored like no other and said would win the Golden Slipper long before he won the Magic Millions on him in early January.
"Nathan knew this horse like no other," says Stephen Elliott, one of the colt's 14 owners. "He told me this was his favourite horse plenty of times."
Last year, Berry rode him in a trial and immediately knew the potential in the horse beneath him.
The connections had been focusing on the Magic Millions. They were thinking big. Berry was thinking bigger.
"I think it's a Slipper horse," he told Elliott.
When Berry piloted Unencumbered to victory in the horse's first start at Randwick in October, TVN's Richard Callander was the first on the scene.
"I think this is my Slipper horse," he told him.
Even when the horse failed on a slow track a month ago, in the Silver Slipper Stakes, Berry was certain which horse would win the golden version.
He called Elliott from the airport, just before he flew out for Singapore.
"Everything's fine," he assured the owner. "We're still on track. I still think we'll win the Slipper."
Speaking on Thursday, Elliott struggles to put that conversation into context.
"This should be the biggest race of his life," he says. "Hopefully we win. It will all be for Nathan if we do."
The biggest race of Berry's life came in January, when Unencumbered won the Magic Millions.
His identical twin, Tommy, had won three races earlier that day, but Berry's victory marked a significant shift.
For so long he had stood in the shadow of his brother, who had notched group 1 wins as Gai Waterhouse's stable jockey at Tulloch Lodge.
As Berry crossed the line, on his favourite horse, his victory salute explained how much it meant.
"I did show how happy I was," Berry laughed afterwards. "Tom did say that the crowd gets you pumped up. The victory salute did cost me $500.
"The stewards said to me, 'Look mate, you really need to try and be a bit more placid.' I said, 'Look sir, I actually couldn't control my emotions. I just let it all out.'
"You know it was about four or five years of working hard before it all came together today."
Then Berry said something, and it wrenches at your heart when you read the remarks now.
"I've got to thank Mum and Dad for what they've done for Tommy and I in bringing us up, and my fiancee Whitney as well. She's just been my rock, you know? I've been with her about four-and-a-half years, and without Mum and Dad behind me and Whitney by my side, I wouldn't be where I am today."
A month later, Berry married Whitney, the daughter of leading jockey Glyn Schofield, brother of Cox Plate-winning jockey Chad.
"It was the happiest time of his life," Elliott recalls. "He was about to marry the girl of his dreams."
Berry's victory in the Magic Millions did not surprise Ray Murrihy. He knew the young jockey's day was going to come.
For the past 40 years, the Racing NSW chief steward has seen flashy apprentices come and then hit the wall.
"Nathan and Tommy went through the wall like it never existed," he says.
Murrihy remembers the phone call from Warwick Farm trainer Paul Cave a decade ago about twin brothers in their early teens driving him mad, wanting to ride trackwork.
"We had to bend and break rules and ask them to be patient," Murrihy reflects. "The minute they turned 14, they were riding at the track, under special permission of Racing NSW. They were young people who were bursting to make a career of it.
"There was always a split match between them. Gai Waterhouse's intervention meant Tommy could get on some group 1 horses. That placed one ahead of the other at that point in time, but they were so intrinsically linked."
Murrihy lived in fear that the twins - whom few could freely differentiate - would one day make a fool of him, and swap mounts in the same race.
Now he holds the same heavy heart as most others in racing.
"It's like an ambush," Murrihy offers. "Every mother, father, girlfriend knows the risk in races. It's the most dangerous profession in the world. Racing people are hardened to that. I'm not saying they don't feel grief, but there's an element of these being the risks that you take. To be killed in a race fall, it is inevitable that it will happen at some point. For a young, fit man to be stricken like this, it is much more tragic. How did this strike Nathan Berry?"
Berry was initially diagnosed with viral encephalitis, which causes the dangerous inflammation of the brain. Norse syndrome has similar symptoms.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart contracted encephalitis during the final stages of his playing career in the late 1990s, and "lost two weeks of my life".
There had been serious fears for his life.
Behind the scenes, some have been trying to connect the dots of how Berry could have contracted the virus - it could have lain dormant in his body for months - but it is guesswork.
They're questions for another day.
Racing people prefer to get on with it. They're hardened souls, with a remarkable ability to keep going. Think Damien Oliver winning the 2002 Melbourne Cup on Media Puzzle days after his brother's death from a race fall.
Unencumbered will be ridden by Craig Williams in the Slipper. The jockey has already made it clear he's riding for Berry.
"Everyone is riding for Nathan," he said earlier this week.
All the indications are that Glyn and Chad Schofield will ride. So, too, Berry's close friend Christian Reith, who had flown to Singapore to be at his bedside but is now back to pilot Memorial in the Slipper.
Should he decide to ride, Tommy Berry will be aboard Valentia - a Waterhouse colt - in the Slipper.
"Nathan your passing has left a hole in my heart that can never be replaced," Tommy tweeted on Thursday. "I will love you and miss you till the day I join you in heaven."
In the meantime, Tommy can join him at Rosehill Gardens, because there is no doubt that Nathan Berry will be everywhere you look on Slipper Day.