Brett Prebble rides Green Moon to victory in the Melbourne Cup in 2012.

Driven by passion

From an early age, Brett Prebble was driven by the desire to become a jockey. If it meant hard work, if it meant day and night practice, so be it, he had to be the best

Soon after his twelfth birthday, a young Brett Prebble would leave home at the start of every school holidays and catch a horse float from his home in Ballarat to Epsom Racecourse, Melbourne.

His experience in Melbourne didn’t end well. He was told that he would get bigger and fatter and being a jockey was out of the equation.  

“After some help from Dad, I gained an apprenticeship with Terry O’Sullivan up at Stawell, and that was the making of me. I worked day and night and really loved it.  I was allowed a week’s holiday at home over Christmas and I lasted one day. And the next thing Terry came out and I was hard at work harrowing the track,” Prebble said.

Trainers in Hong Kong and Australia used to marvel at the workload that Prebble would take on during trackwork of a morning.

“Terry was probably the making of me. He taught me so much and he instilled in me, like my own father, that hard work was always going to be the answer to any success.”

His record is testament to that compulsion. He has ridden winners in all parts of the world and at times was arguably the best you could get.

He had a very successful passage of winners in Australia in the 1990s, which included 99.5 city winners in one season, that was only broken this year by Jamie Kah.

But the beckoning of good judges in arguably the most competitive jurisdiction in the world, Hong Kong, came knocking.

They knew Prebble was the ideal candidate to spearhead racing in that country in the new century.

In fact, apart from his 2012 victory on Green Moon in the Melbourne Cup when he flew in and out to capture the race, he regards his association with the Japanese-owned and trained Bullish Luck a highlight of his career.

Bullish Luck was rated the best horse in the world and according to Prebble, he was a simply amazing racehorse.

“He even ran third in the World Cup on a sand track that he had never seen before. He could do things that no other horse could do. I rode Sacred Kingdom, another truly great horse in Hong Kong.

“You know being in Hong Kong you are riding against the best, but you are also having the ability to travel with your family to countries all over the world.”

After Prebble’s marriage breakdown, the jockey’s two children, Thomas and Georgia, returned to Australia.

“We just felt that the kids were better to do some study back in Australia where they would make new friends. The expat life can be difficult because one day you’re here and the next day you’re back in another country severing all your friendships,” he said.

But Prebble left an indelible mark on Hong Kong racing, as former South China Post racing editor Alan Aitken recalled.  

“Brett Prebble did his first Hong Kong stint in the first half of 2003 when a frustrating lack of success ended with his first Hong Kong Group 1 then a season-ending injury soon after, before he didn’t ride in the 2003-04 season here except a few fly-ins for big races.

“But in almost 14 years from September 2004 to the middle of 2018, Prebble became an indelible part of Hong Kong history winning 800 races and he was fourth on the all-time list of wins at the time he left.

“Some of his highlights included very narrowly missing out on dethroning Douglas Whyte in 2010, in the most memorable jockey’s championship fight of this century, the same season he was the first jockey ever to ride six winners on a day. Brett won 22 group ones on Hong Kong horses, including majors in Melbourne, Singapore and Tokyo, and was twice associated regularly with the world’s top-ranked sprinter, once with Absolute Champion and later with Sacred Kingdom,” he said.

Since arriving back in Australia, Prebble has largely had to regroup and start his career again. There was no room for resting on past records – the former Dowling Forest jockey had to show that he could match it with the best.

And luck has gone his way. With the suspension of Jamie Kah, Prebble has snapped up the ride on the Lexus Melbourne Cup favourite Incentivise; the two of them claiming victory in the Group 1 PFD Food Services Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington. His success on Behemoth in the Group 1 Memsie Stakes showed that Prebble had lost none of his tactical brilliance and strength in a tough finish.

“I just kept working at it and things are turning around. I’ve done the hard yards and I’ve worked for it.”

On the fact that he has picked up rides with the exiting of Jamie Kah, Prebble said, “That’s racing and there are highs and lows and I’ve had them all. It’s easy to be a champion once, it’s hard to be one multiple times.”

Prebble has another major interest in his life with his son Thomas now becoming an apprentice jockey with Peter Moody at Pakenham. “He’s working hard.”

Prebble is currently able to ride at 54 kilos, a weight he believes is “comfortable and healthy”.

“I took on a personal trainer two years ago to be able to ride at 52 in the Melbourne Cup. By the time race day came, I would have won any skinfold test in the world. My body looked as though it had been chiselled. Sadly, I did all the work to ride and finished close to last.”

Brett Prebble has shown, once again, that champions can come again and, as Alan Aitken says in his assessment of Prebble, is indeed appropriate.

“For an opinion on Brett at his best, I defer to a conversation with Frankie Dettori at one time ... he thought Prebble needed only to show off his talents for a season in what Dettori saw as the finishing school of Britain and Europe, to lay proper claim being the world’s best rider.”