Prebble is over the Moon

Prebble is over the Moon

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 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'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.

''He always said he was going to be a top jockey,'' O'Sullivan said on Tuesday, having watched the race from 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.

Prebble 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.

''He was never going to 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,'' he panted.

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 Caspar Fownes, have legged him up on many of the 500-plus winners he's ridden on racing's most exacting world stage.

''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.

He didn't want to sound cocky, but admitted he had felt very confident a mile from home in the Cup. After crossing the line, he shared a hands-held salute with James McDonald, who was 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 on Tuesday night was whether he'd have to jet back to Hong Kong to take up a full book of rides at Happy Valley on Wednesday night. He remembered the Hong Kong Jockey Club taking pity on Gerald Mosse two years ago, and was planning to make a phone call.

Peter Hanlon

Peter Hanlon has worked at The Age since 1995, initially as deputy sports editor, subsequently as editor of the Saturday and Sunday Age sports sections, and since 2007 as a senior sports writer. He writes extensively on the AFL, and has also covered the Beijing Olympics and Delhi Commonwealth Games.

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