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Going with the flow: Brett Prebble’s latitudinal – and attitudinal – shift

Brett Prebble’s shift to Sydney is no hit-and-run mission: the champion jockey is keen to make the harbour city his home. He speaks to Asian Racing Report about how he has changed, why Sydney appeals to him more than Melbourne and his hunger for more big race success.

Brett Prebble scores on Ringmaster at Rosehill for Michael Freeedman. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

It’s a perfect summer day at Newcastle; 25 degrees, blue sky, the track is picture-perfect green and the cooling east-northeast sea breeze has arrived right on time. Brett Prebble is at ease. Importantly, he is riding like a man with the wind at his tail. 

For many years Prebble railed against the world. Prone to mood swings, he was more likely to snap at a barrier attendant than complement one, he could be difficult with media and abrupt with owners.

It didn’t stop him from building a world class CV including 800 wins in Hong Kong, runner-up in the jockeys’ premiership six times there and partner to some of the jurisdiction’s all-time greats like Sacred Kingdom and Lucky Nine. But it was hard work; wasting combined with a fiery competitive streak was a combustible combination. 

“I am mindful of being a people person now,” he says between races. Rather than railing, he strikes a relaxed figure, leaning on a rail. He has won the opening race, which helps, but overall, he is less than one week into riding out of his new base of Sydney but has the measured tone of somebody going with the flow.

“In the past I was very abrupt and I came across that way. I was very moody and I used to waste a lot more. Now I don’t – I wake up most days weighing around 55 kilograms – I am very healthy. I eat three meals per day and I have a real balance in my life. I have a good partner in my life, Erin, she is fantastic.” 

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Brett Prebble spoke to Asian Racing's Report Michael Cox at Newcastle. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

Prebble is divorced from ex-wife Maree for a few years now and their two children “are up and going,” as Prebble put it. Tom, 20, has embarked on his own career in the saddle (at the time of writing he had an impressive record of six wins from 38 starts) and daughter Georgia, 19, is in her second year of university, studying health science. 

At the end of the 2017-18 Hong Kong season, aged 40, after 13 seasons in Hong Kong, Prebble returned to Australia. Aside from some breakout big race success, like the 2021 Caulfield Cup on Incentivise, he had struggled to find consistent support in Melbourne.

He has consolidated his saddlery business and brand “Persuader” though – Prebble is a master whip maker and provides many of the world’s top riders with riding gear – and with life settled, he has decided to shift his professional focus on Sydney. 

In the past, Prebble would have tried to take Sydney by force of will but experience has shown him that it will take more than talent to succeed. 

“I am out doing it all myself, meeting new clients and people all the time and just building connections every day,” he says. “I am learning the guys’ names from behind the barriers, the guys who work on the scales and the jockey rooms. Before I used to come and go, and not really worry about anything else other than getting on the horse and riding.

“Now I am more focussed and more professional about it. Individually, each of those people are important to me every day. The guys on the barriers can save your life. But it can help you win as well, if you have a rogue horse they can give you some tips and maybe help you get that horse out easier, and then end up in a more favourable position in a race.”

Brett Prebble forged a winning association with Incentivise in 2021. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri)

One of the adjustments Prebble was forced to make upon returning to Australia involved raceday commitments. Riding in Hong Kong has its unique challenges but one of them isn’t providing a video interview to a stable representative with a smartphone after every losing ride. 

“When I came back from Hong Kong, Australian racing was different,” he says. “There were a lot of cameras in your face, people trying to video you, and I was never good at that with the media. It took a lot for me to learn and get my head around, I never liked it, but I have had to adjust and manage that in my own way. I feel like I have improved. 

“Operating my business has definitely helped me. It has made me a better person around people and with people. Having employees and how I have had to manage them and their expectations every day – I had to look at how I spoke to them. I used to be abrupt and rude to people because I was just angry for some reason, but I think it definitely helped me now in the racing industry.” 

As for comparisons between Sydney and Melbourne, Prebble says “I can’t believe I waited this long to move.” 

“I think jockeys balance their lifestyles better here because of the way racing is run here. Racing in New South Wales is more professionally run, that is a given,” he says. 

Brett Prebble wins the G1 KrisFlyer at Kranji in 2014. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)

“I have been here one week but I am kicking myself that I didn’t come here and do it earlier. It’s everything: from trackwork in the morning to barrier trials and race day. At the trials you have a commentator and you can see it live. First morning at trials, I was sitting there with the people minding the horses and they were watching the trials live on their phones. People are involved with their horses. Go to Victoria, and you will be lucky to get a replay of a jump-out in three days’ time.” 

Then there is the fact jockeys don’t get paid to ride in Victoria’s jump-outs. 

“You might be at the trials from seven in the morning until the afternoon to ride them,” he says. “Well, you get paid in Sydney, you don’t get paid in Victoria to go and ride 12 to 15 trials. Who in their right mind goes to work for a full day and doesn’t get paid in the world?  Is that even allowed? It shouldn’t happen, but it happens in Victoria, why? Because they allow it.” 

On a personal level, Prebble sums his situation in Sydney simply: “no distractions” is the biggest difference he has noticed since his move north. It isn’t just showing in his relaxed manner, but in results.

His win on Tuesday at Newcastle was one of five in the space of four meetings. He is teaming with big stables; riding trackwork for Gai Waterhourse and Adrian Bott – with whom he rode impressive two-year-old Red Resistance to a maiden victory last weekend – as well as Michael Freedman and Brad Widdop, for whom he has committed to G1 winner Icebath for the classy mare’s ucpoming autumn preparation.

Brett Prebble anoints his Sydney relocation with a winner at Rosehill on January 14, 2023. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

Icebath trialled for Prebble earlier in the week and is likely to resume in the G2 Apollo Stakes on February 11. It is horses like her that get the now-45-year-old up in the morning. 

“It’s not about the money, it is about big races, and riding good horses,” he says. “That feeling is pretty special and you can’t get it any other way than getting on them, but that is what you do the hard work for. There are a lot of lows you need to go through to get those highs, but when you get on a good horse, it makes it all worth it.” 

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