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Tom Prebble’s ‘pedigree’ might make it seem his career path was set in the stars but a stint in the saddle was no sure thing for the new apprentice writes Michael Cox.
When Peter Moody introduces his new apprentice Tom Prebble to owners in the pre-race parade ring he references the jockey’s pedigree in his famously forthright style, using breeding parlance, and gives the youngster a serious rap.
“He will introduce me as ‘a Prebble, ex Payne’ and says that I am bred to ride, and born to ride,” Prebble told Asian Racing Report this week.
Those kinds of intros from Moody could create a serious sense of expectation but Prebble is getting used to it. Even when he announced that he intended to follow in his parents footsteps it made news. Every step along the way – first ride, first win, first double – there is somebody mentioning the ‘blueblood pedigree’.
Tom’s father Brett Prebble, still riding, is a Melbourne Cup winner, two-time champion jockey in Melbourne and fifth all-time for most wins in Hong Kong with more than 800. His mother Maree, of the phenomenal Payne racing family, is one of the eight out of ten children that became a jockey. And Maree is more than just sister to successful trainer and jockey Patrick (Paddy) and Melbourne Cup-winning Michelle, the two best-known of the clan; she is a stakes-winning rider that saluted on more than 400 winners. She stopped riding fulltime in 2001 to focus on raising Tom, and later Georgia.
Brett Prebble celebrates victory on Super Fluke. (Photo: Grant Courtney)
It would seem with that type of family background it was destiny that Tom became a jockey – and perhaps it is – but it certainly hasn’t been a straightforward path to find his purpose.
First of all, Prebble and Payne never pushed their son towards racing.
“I don’t think either of us wanted him to be taking the sport up necessarily, because we know how dangerous it is and how it absorbs a lot of your life,” Prebble said. “I told him at the start – this is a game that you get what you put in, it isn’t one you can just roll along and be half-paced.
“You can’t just come into it and think you are going to make a lot of money. If you do it for financial reasons, often it doesn’t matter how much money you can make, because sometimes the effort you need to put in outweighs anything you can earn. But I think if it is a passion and you love it, then in a sense you don’t work a day in your life.”
Motivation and purpose aside, the next question for the then-teenager was his height. “I said ‘have a think about it, it’s a tough job and you’re pretty tall’,” Payne said. “He was around 56 kilograms at the time, but he said he really wanted to ride.”
Tom Prebble grew up in the apartment blocks adjacent to Sha Tin Racecourse, he moved there as a newborn in 2004 and for more than a decade he didn’t see the likes of Douglas Whyte, Gerald Mosse, Darren Beadman and Zac Purton as jockeys, per se, just neighbours that you might bump into in the elevator or carpark on any given day.
“I didn’t know they were top jockeys, I mean I knew they were jockeys, but you don’t know anything about the prize money or the gambling, or even how big the crowds are,” he said. ”Now that I am an adult I know how big racing is in Hong Kong, but as a kid I didn’t get to see it because children can’t go to the races there.”
Rather than Brett and Maree, now separated, pushing their son and daughter Georgia into racing, they encouraged them to try as many sports as possible.
It was at Hong Lok Yuen International School at Tai Po that Prebble became best mates with Luke Ferraris, the son of trainer David, who became a two-time champion apprentice in his homeland of South Africa and now rides in Hong Kong.
Ferraris and Prebble were inseparable on the sporting fields whether it be soccer, cricket, rugby, Australian Rules or field hockey.
Luke Ferraris (left), Maree Payne and Tom Prebble (right) at Beas River. (Photo: Supplied)
Tom Prebble and Luke Ferraris as kids about to go pony riding. (Photo: Supplied)
But it wasn’t until Prebble visited the Australian school in Hong Kong after his father had won the 2012 Melbourne Cup, and then started high school Down Under, that he got an inkling that racing might be a bigger deal than he had imagined.
“I had every second kid at school asking me ‘any tips?’ and even the teachers were asking,” he said. “That is when I started to think about it and went to the races, I acted as valet for dad a few times and I thought ‘I could just give it a go’.”
Still, upon leaving school the youngster was committed to a career in real estate before Covid intervened, which is what gave the final push. A real estate qualifications course was postponed, then moved online, and he decided to find work at Troy Corstens’ stables.
Once he made the commitment to ride, it was a steep learning curve. As a youngster, Prebble had taken riding lessons at the Hong Kong Jockey Club riding school at Beas River, but the first time a young rider is legged aboard a thoroughbred can be a nerve-rattling experience.
For Prebble it was the stables of his father’s first boss Terry O’Sullivan.
“Riding definitely didn’t come naturally,” he said. “I got put on a racehorse and it was going to bolt on me, so we pulled up pretty quickly. So I jumped off and got back on the pony.
“Having one bolt like that is not the best feeling.”
Tom Prebble (strapper) and Brett Prebble (jockey) after the G2 Sires' Produce Stakes win of Lunar Fox. (Photo: Grant Courtney)
It was a stint with champion jumps rider Steve Pateman and cantering along Thirteenth Beach near Geelong where his confidence and skills began to grow.
“That is where my riding really took up and I got to ride everyday,” Prebble said. “He taught me a lot, he (Pateman) is an incredible horseman.”
For Payne, the nerves she felt in the build-up to her son’s first ride at Geelong on November 30 surprised her.
“I don’t even remember being nervous for my own first ride, and I think it was because I had spent so much time in the jockeys’ room with my older sisters Brigid and Therese, so I knew the whole routine before I got on the horse,” she said.
“The only time I can remember being that nervous was probably on my way to the hospital before I gave birth to Tom. I was nervous when he first decided he wanted to ride, then first trial and then a licence, I thought ‘oh gosh it is really happening’ I didn’t expect to be that nervous, but you just want them to get around safely.”
That first ride was itself a nervous effort – unplaced on a Moody-trained favourite – but it took just seven rides for the breakthrough victory at Mornington on December 13. Four days later he rode a double at Benalla.
Congratulations to Tom Prebble who brings up his first career win 👏 pic.twitter.com/RNpbHcC9ni
— Racing.com (@Racing) December 13, 2022
He is off to a flying start and his proud father isn’t surprised.
“He has worked his butt off to get where he has got in such a short space of time,” Prebble Snr said. “He couldn’t put a head collar on three years ago. But he is like a sponge, he really takes it all in. I think he is quite professional in the way he goes about things.”
That professionalism is perhaps expressed best in the way the youngster handles his diet: Prebble can ride 51 kilograms but is doing it sustainably.
“I haven’t ever had to sweat, and I am still maintaining a low weight for my height,” he said. “I am 20 years old, so I don’t think I will grow anymore. “
The father and son speak “five or six times per day” and their relationship has grown.
“He is my best mate,” Brett said. “He has taken the profession that I am in, so obviously we have plenty to talk about. I can help and guide him the best I can.”
The mentorship will stop the moment the two race against each other. You can guarantee that the older Prebble won’t be getting pushed off a two-wide line if he has his son in a pocket.
“We haven’t ridden in a race yet but he is as keen as mustard to do that, the little bugger,” Brett said. “I hope he doesn’t think he is going to be pushing the old man out of the way, but I think he understands that I am a very tough, competitive rider.”
Tom Prebble is making a rapid impression on the Victorian riding ranks. (Photo by Reg Ryan/Racing Photos via Getty Images)
With the nerves of those first few weeks out of the way, the apprentice can fix his sights on bigger targets.
Ultimately, riding Hong Kong against his old schoolmate Ferraris is the biggest dream.
“Imagine that?,” he says at the mention of the idea. “100 percent, I would love to ride in Hong Kong. Especially with Luke riding there now. We have always played sport together and never against each other. But I am sure there would be a bit of banter and rivalry if we ever got the chance to compete.”
First things first though, Prebble is keen to notch a win for his boss.
“The main goal is to ride a winner for Pete,” he said. “For now it is about going out there and enjoying it, and just following instructions.”
If Prebble can keep tracking on the early trajectory he has set, maybe it will be simply pre-race instructions, not introductions, that Moody will need to give.
COMMENT | Japan has stolen a march on Hong Kong in attracting the big name jockeys
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