International challenge the next step for cup-winning jockey

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​A triumphant Corey Brown after winning the 2017 Melbourne Cup aboard Rekindling.

By AMELIA LIM

Two-time Melbourne Cup winning jockey Corey Brown will be flying the green and gold Australian colours at the International Jockeys’ Challenge in South Africa this Sunday.

The globe-trotting hoop, who has ridden in Mauritius, New Zealand, England, Hong Kong, France, and most recently Singapore, said he had never been to South Africa and was excited about the experience. 

Brown scored the gig after “best mate” champion jockey Hugh Bowman, who rides the superstar Winx, was unable to take part because of contract work in Japan. 

“His (Bowman’s) manager asked if I wanted to take Hughie’s place and I took the offer up … I thought it’ll be a great opportunity.”

What started as an outlet from school has morphed into 26-year professional riding career for Brown. The prolific jockey now boasts more than 45 Group 1s under his belt, with the first aboard Camino Rose in the 1999 Coolmore Classic.

His win aboard Rekindling at the Melbourne Cup this month topped a strong year for Brown, with 5 Group 1 wins, but he says he is still struggling to get his foot back in the door after his return from 3½ years riding in Singapore.

“When you go away on a small working holiday you’ll come back and obviously be remembered, but I’ve been away for so long, I’ve basically lost my spot,” Brown said. “My position in a lot of the stables I rode for were no longer available because there are so many young and good jockeys in Australia.

“It’s been a long road just trying to get back to where I was before as far as the people that I ride for (are concerned).

“That is only going to come after lots of hard work and dedication and I’m sure I’ll be able to turn it around.

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Corey Brown wins the Cup on Rekindling, ahead of Ben Melham on Johannes Vermeer.

“I would love to ride in the World Cup in Dubai and even win it, that’s definitely my dream …  just to ride winners, big winners, and be very successful till the end of my career.”

In South Africa, the 41-year-old will be teaming up with top European jockeys including Pat Smullen and Seamie Heffernan to compete at the Turffontein meeting. The event pits six South African jockeys against six of the best from around the world in a six-race event. 

“I’ve ridden with Pat Smullen several times in Hong Kong and Singapore so I know Pat very well … I’ve just met the other boys recently and together we will take on some of the best riders in South Africa,” Brown said.

“I know that Turffontein has quite a steep rise and it has an extremely long straight, so compared to the Mauritius racetrack, I think it is going to be extremely different.”

Out of the six countries that he has ridden in so far, the New South Wales rider’s favourite spot is France, where he spent six weeks before heading to Singapore.

“I really love French racing. I love the way the French jockeys ride and the big, spacious French tracks. The experience I’ve had is very good and very satisfying,” Brown said.

“I think some of the best jockeys in the world come from France and that’s why I like, and would like, to go back again.”

The father of three has at times been a subject of scrutiny on social media over his riding skills, but he sees it as part and parcel of his job and he is used to it.

“In a lot of countries, the tall poppy syndrome has been like that in a lot of sports, especially in this day and age with social media and critics out there, everything has become very professional and people are quick to criticise about what you do,” Brown said.

“Being a sports person, you’ve got to have thick skin and overcome those critics and prove them wrong.

“People think it (being a jockey) is all roses and chocolates as they always see you winning, they think you have lots of money and you are always in the limelight.

“But there are lots of hard times with it like losing, the early mornings and the hard work that goes behind it, so people often have misconceptions about who we are and what we do because they often don’t see the background and work that we put into the game.”

Brown credits his success to perseverance and grit, two attributes he believes are essential not just for jockeys, but for everyone.

“Not just in a racing career but in any part of life itself you always hit hurdles and there’s always tough times, but you just have to keep getting up and keep trying and that’s how life is, whether you are a jockey or in any other business that you choose to do,” Brown said.

“Just keep trying hard, that sounds simple but just keep trying hard and there’s going to be lots of hard times, some good times, but you just have to overcome the hard times and keep turning up and it (success) is bound to happen.”