By Ray Hickson
Corey Brown’s career in the saddle didn’t end the way he wanted but the premiership winning jockey has found his groove in his role in guiding the next generation.
In an ideal world Brown, 46, would still be entrenched in the Sydney riding ranks. The desire to compete with the likes of James McDonald and the most envied jockey line up in the country is still there.
A serious back injury suffered in a race fall in 2019 left Brown wondering what his future looked like after being told his riding days were over.
Now, he’s just under a year into a position with Racing NSW as Head Jockey Coach, and head of a team of experienced former jockeys, charged with ensuring the future is bright for the emerging young men and women who share his passion for racing.
He complements that job with his gig as a presenter for Sky Channel meaning he always has eyes on what the apprentices are up to.
“Being a jockey has been my life. Since I was 14 I’ve been sitting on a horse’s back,’’ Brown said.
“After I broke my back I was praying and hoping I’d get back to riding and after 14 or 15 months they said I’d never ride again.
“Mentally, it was very challenging. I had a lot on my plate. Then Sky Channel wanted me and that was a bit of an outlet to get out of the house and start doing things again.
“When this role came along it was a bit of a saviour. I’m not saying I don’t know where I would have ended up but it just came at exactly the right time.
“I’ve always taken a keen interest in the apprentices, even when I was riding I used to always say I’d love to have my own academy. It was quite fitting when the job came along.”
Brown, the Sydney Jockeys Premiership champion of 2001/02, says he isn’t the ‘office job’ type so is in his element when he’s on the ground.
What he’s excited about is the chance to not only be a mentor to future jockeys but pass on his experience from just under 30 years in the saddle, 49 Group 1 wins and almost 2500 race victories via day-to-day guidance and intensive sessions at Apprentice School, based at Scone run through the Team Thoroughbred NSW Training Academy.
And it’s not just about riding. It’s about presentation, diet and a life conducive to being the best.
“I haven’t moulded the job to where I exactly want it at the moment,’’ he said.
“They’re all at different levels so we teach them different things. Not just the riding side.
“Things like taxation, life skills like ironing and cooking. How to watch your weight instead of running to McDonalds and grabbing a burger. How to cook a piece of meat or fish, showing them a small bit of preparation isn’t that hard. Blend that with the right balance of fitness training and exercise – stay healthy and be ready to compete.
“I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve gone to the races and seen apprentices with unironed shirts or silks. It’s not just the riding side of it, it’s how to deal with people.
“You’ve got to know how to handle yourself, handle media and the stewards room. This time around for the third and fourth year (apprentices) I had a real estate agent with a broker there.
“Every avenue we can go down to teach them something about everyday life as well as their riding we will do.”
It’s important to note that Brown is part of a big coaching and mentoring team across NSW who are dedicated to the same goal.
Fellow ex-jockey Rodney Quinn and retired trainer Pat Webster oversee the metropolitan and provincial areas, Jamie Whitney covers the South East, Dale Jeffries the Central and Western area, Brad Clark in the Southern District, Scott Thurlow on the Mid North Coast while Cameren Swan (Lower Hunter) and John Powell (Northern Rivers) are recent additions to the team.
“I’ll be watching as much as I can, the days I don’t go to the races I’ll be at home watching every NSW meeting,’’ Brown said.
“If I don’t pick up on something, I get the apprentices to text me and we go over it.
“I’ve got a great team behind me and it’s great to know their ability to comment on things, they know what they’re talking about.
“And we’re about to appoint someone to work under me to deal with the off track stuff.”
There’s no shortage of promising riding talent in all corners of the state and Brown tells them all the same thing.
They can be successful. They can be the next James McDonald. But they must want to learn from their mistakes and get the most out of themselves in all aspects to get there.
“The more exposure you have the easier it becomes and my biggest thing with them at the moment is dedication, commitment and hard work,’’ he said.
“You might have all the ability in the world but your ability isn’t going to take you to the top. I’ve told them all, there’s not one thing you’re going to do that I haven’t already done.
“I tell them if you need a hand with anything, if I haven’t already picked up on it, just come and ask and we’ll sort it out.
“There’s some really nice riders out there. I’m really happy with the likes of Amy McLucas who has started to get a kick along, Tyler Schiller is about to finish, it’s great to see the kids really starting to shine as they’re about to enter the big league.
“We’ve got the Dylan Gibbons’ and Zac Lloyd’s, and beneath them there’s a kid there I reckon I won’t even have to polish, Braith Nock, who hasn’t had a race ride yet. (Since printing, Braith rode his first winner at his first ride).
“Just watching him at the Academy and on horses now in barrier trials and on the equisizer. There won’t be a lot of teaching going on, he’s almost there. It’s exciting and I love seeing it.
“But I haven’t been in it long enough at the moment to claim bragging rights on anyone.”
If any of the budding stars of the saddle share the same passion for racing as Brown, or can have that passion rub off on them, then the apprentice stocks can only get stronger.
It’s still a little bittersweet for the former jockey. Even though he’s come to terms with the fact that his life has taken a different path than what he’d planned he admits he misses the competition and the camaraderie.
“What I miss the most about racing, it sounds weird, is the brotherhood,’’ he said.
“I’ve been in the jockey’s room since I was 15, basically five days a week on average, I spent more time with them than my own family.
“Still to this day when I walk into Racing NSW I feel like I’m ducking for cover, every time I walked in there previously as a jockey it was because I was in strife.
“Once it’s in your blood, I don’t think I’ll ever not have that competitive spirit. I love watching the races because I love to think ‘I would have done this or that’.
“It didn’t end the way I wanted it to. Having this job is as close as I can get to what I love without being out there.”