Most jockeys freely admit they are adrenalin junkies.
Not only are they putting their lives on the line riding at around 60km/h they’re also pushing their limits in other ways.
For two-time Melbourne Cup winner Corey Brown, when he’s not on a horse, he’s cruising around on his Harley-Davidson. He must have been born with that daredevil gene.
His grandfather, Trevor, was an amateur jockey and father, Jack, a car mechanic, also became a jockey. He followed in their footsteps and remembers the day he made the decision to become a jockey: “Dad said there were two things he could teach me to do: change tyres or become a jockey. Needless to say, tyres didn’t appeal.”
Unlike in South Africa, where jockeys go through a formal apprenticeship at the SA Jockeys’ Academy, Australian jockeys indenture themselves to outlying or country trainers and hope to get the experience necessary to graduate to the cities.
Only once a jockey has proved himself twice over will he be invited in by metropolitan trainers, who have the best bloodstock.
“Charlie” Brown, as some people teasingly call him referencing the popular comic strip Peanuts, had innate talent – plus two fantastic mentors.
Aged 15, in 1991, he apprenticed himself to Eric Anderson in Kempsey, New South Wales. He rode his first of about 2 500 winners – Another Square – on just his seventh race ride.
Not far into his apprenticeship, at the urging of Malcom Johnston, who rode wellknown Australian superstar Kingston Town (winner of the Cox Plate three times) and subsequently became a trainer, Brown graduated quickly to the Sydney racing scene.
The initial part of his journey took an enormous amount of grit, though.
The first horse he rode in a race broke a leg 100m from the finishing post, sending Brown crashing spectacularly to the ground. Some would have sounded a retreat until the bruises had healed.
Brown climbed virtually straight back on and rode in another race at that same meeting.
Then, just a few rides into his tenure in Sydney, tragedy struck. On October 9, 1993, Brown rode in a race at Rosehill Gardens.
The horse in front of him broke a leg, throwing jockey Ken Russell to the turf.
Brown had no space or time to react and his horse galloped over the fallen rider. Russell later died of head injuries. “I was very young and it was tough to get over that,” said Brown.
Yet, again, he showed immense courage to win the Sydney apprentice title that same season. “I had a great support base, friends and family.”
Some jockeys ride a lifetime without experiencing the thrill of a Grade 1 win and, for six long years, Brown, while successful enough, could not break through that barrier.
However, that day finally arrived when he won the Coolmore on Camino Rose. Since then, he has notched an incredible 50-odd Grade 1 wins.
There’s nothing humdrum about winning at the highest level, but two victories stand out for Brown. They came in Australia’s biggest race, the Melbourne Cup – dubbed “The Race that Stops a Nation”.
During the two-to-three minutes the race is being run, nearly every Australian and a good few people from all around the world stop what they’re doing to enjoy the race, whether they’re at Flemington Racecourse, watching it on TV or listening to the commentary on the radio.
Brown’s first win in the Melbourne Cup came on Shocking in 2009 and he followed up on Rekindling for young Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien less than two weeks ago.
“Rekindling ticked all the boxes a long way out,” Brown said.
“He had no weight on his back and we got a perfect run in transit.” He has not limited himself to riding in Australia, also plying his trade in Singapore (he spent four years there), Hong Kong (two years), England, France, New Zealand, Macau, Malaysia and Dubai.
He has also ridden in Mauritius and will be having his first experience of South African racing tomorrow, when he is set to ride in the Air Mauritius International Jockeys’ Challenge at Turffontein.
“I’m really excited to be in South Africa having heard so much about it.”
Brown is part of a six-man international squad, captained by Ireland’s Pat Smullen, who will be competing in six races against a team of top South African riders, captained by Anthony Delpech.
The race meeting tomorrow promises to provide a spectacle as the teams’ rides look equally matched.