The phone call that changed Cup winner's course

Corey Brown on Rekindling after winning the 2017 Melbourne cup at Flemington. 7th November 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO
Corey Brown on Rekindling after winning the 2017 Melbourne cup at Flemington. 7th November 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

Singapore was suffocating Corey Brown. His family had been there, then they hadn't. The girls wanted to come home, needed to come home, leaving their husband and father behind. Skype can do only so much. The phone bills were piling up. The rides drying up.

"It's not about being a good jockey there, it's about luck and them liking you or not liking you," Brown's wife of 21 years, Kylie, said. "It doesn't matter how good you are.

"I kept saying to Corey, 'You've got to come back. You cannot waste your talent and ability being there, to be quite honest.' That's not being disrespectful to them, but they weren't doing him a favour."

So his wife did him one. After spending two years over there together and then one more year 6000 kilometres apart, Brown decided it was time to come home earlier in 2017. Best decision he's made, or been forced to make.

Amid Melbourne Cup fanatic Lloyd Williams' sixth win, it was easy to gloss over Brown's second. Good riders can win one Melbourne Cup, only special riders two.

"I honestly can't believe it, I'm gobsmacked," Brown said after Rekindling stormed to victory for 24-year-old Irish trainer Joseph O'Brien, his father Aidan preparing the Williams-owned runner-up Johannes Vermeer.

"A mate of mine is a property developer and he was only young and he was kicking around a property he was about to buy. He kicked a small gold nugget and he's taken it everywhere with him. Everything he touches turns to gold.

"I was lucky he was good enough to give it to me [on Monday] night and told me it's full of luck. If that's what worked, then so be it. He won't be getting it back."

There were more than a few sceptics raising eyebrows when Brown sailed back into Sydney earlier this year. Had time passed the 41-year-old, with a crop of young guns emerging in one of the most intense riding environments worldwide?

He now laughs that he can't get rides at the midweeks at the moment, but he can sniff a big-race winner a mile away. He circled Rekindling down in the weights six weeks ago. Williams was receptive, O'Brien even more despite having never met the big-race specialist.

"I was just a bit happy to get a ride in the race because Kylie and the kids had booked to come down a long time ago," Brown laughed. "When I secured the ride it was just a relief.

"The closer I looked at it the more I thought the horse was a chance. I hate getting in front of myself, but mate, by the time I got to the 400 I knew I was the winner."

Kylie said of the day-long Brown and O'Brien association: "They only met for the first time ever in the parade and I think Corey was a bit in awe of him. They're such legends in their own country. He said he was a real gentle soul.

"[O'Brien] said [to Corey], 'I'll leave [tactics] up to you. You've won a Melbourne Cup and you know the track better than I do.' Exactly when he jumped, I said, 'Don't go four back on the fence.' That's my most hated spot. That's exactly where he went."

Yet Brown knows his way home, even if it took him a little longer to return than it should have.

His three daughters - Holli, Charlie and Maddy - stood almost stunned in the mounting yard as Rekindling outpointed Johannes Vermeer. They'd never been to Flemington for a Melbourne Cup before, let alone to see their father win one.

"My last HSC exam was [on Monday] and I got straight on the flight and came here for the occasion," Charlie said. "To me I have a really close relationship with my dad and I almost look at him as my best friend.

"He's the type of person, we go to long lunches together, go karting. We have that father-daughter bond, but also as a best friend. He's probably the most deserving person I know. It's all worthwhile he's back."

This story The phone call that changed Cup winner's course first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.