Brothers in arms: Tommy Berry, 23, jockey
In April, Tommy Berry’s identical twin, Nathan, died suddenly from a rare complication of epilepsy. Just two weeks later, Tommy won the group 1 Sydney Cup, and dedicated the victory to his brother. He has since won major races in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Richard Cooke It’s difficult to know what to ask you about the past couple of months – it’s been such an extreme period in your life. How have you dealt with it?
Tommy Berry It’s been very hard, obviously. It’s something I haven’t had to deal with before, and losing the most important person in my life is the hardest thing that’s ever happened to me. But I’m lucky that I’m in an industry that’s very supportive, and I’m in an industry that my brother dearly loved. I’m so lucky that I can live his dream as well as mine now. That kind of helps to get through everyday life.
RC You were racing again straight away, but you must have considered taking a break.
TB Yeah. There was a time… And it still goes through my head now. But at the end of the day Nathan loved racing and he loved to ride. If I can make him proud and do something we both loved… Well, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
RC Damien Oliver went through a similar situation in the 2002 Melbourne Cup when his brother passed away [after a race fall]. Did you two talk?
TB Yeah, I spoke to Damien and he helped me get through it a lot, and he pretty much told me what to look forward to... Well, not look forward to, but what’s going to come my way. He’s pretty right in what he said. He’s someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time.
RC So he told you to concentrate on the future.
TB Yeah, he said just concentrate on the future and make Nathan a part of your everyday life even though he’s not here.
RC Since then you’ve had some very impressive wins. Which one means the most?
TB I think winning on The Offer in the Sydney Cup was very special, because that horse has got me through a lot of tough times, whether it’s been when Nathan was in Singapore and I came back to riding and he won a group 2. He was my first winner after Nathan’s death, so he’s the horse that’s been with me through some very difficult times.
RC So it’s the times that you’ve ridden him that cemented the connection.
TB Yeah, more the connection of when everything’s happened. But I think he’s a pretty special horse. What he’s done in a short time is pretty good, and he looks like a horse that can go on to bigger and better things. But most important is the timing of it, when everything happened. He also wears the blue and yellow colours, which were Nathan’s favourite colours as well.
RC That Sydney Cup race was very emotional. Not only for you, but Nathan’s father-in-law [Glyn Schofield] and brother-in-law [Chad Schofield] were riding as well.
TB To win any group 1 is always very, very special, but leading into the race I felt like I had a bit of pressure on me, especially, because I really wanted to do it for Nathan. My dad came to the races for the first time since I’d started riding, so that was very special as well. It was just a big day all round, and, yeah, so it was… Just to pull it off was amazing. To have family there as well – it’s been very hard for all of us so it was good that we’ve been able to get through it together. It was more, you know, making a statement.
RC Another kind of tribute, a medal, has now been named after your brother.
TB For a medal to be named after Nathan – and it was the winner of The Championships, so it’s something that’s new in Australian racing – it’s probably the biggest thing to happen to Australian racing for a long time. It just shows how much Nathan meant to everyone and how he touched everyone’s life in such a short time.
RC The racing community can be a fractious place, full of rivalry. But not at times like this?
TB The reaction has just been amazing really. They’re all still probably in shock I imagine. You don’t expect to lose people young. I guess it was different with Nathan, it didn’t happen in a race fall, which we’re more accustomed to. For him to die of an illness was, I think, hard for everyone to comprehend.
RC When you’re involved in a risky sport, bad falls are more expected?
TB Oh, for sure. If Nathan had a race fall and passed away, I wouldn’t say it would be easy to take, but it’s something we know is there, we know it can happen.
RC You riding The Offer in the Melbourne Cup is now the scenario on everyone’s mind. Is it on yours?
TB Yeah, I’m looking forward to that. I haven’t really had a good horse for the spring yet, so he’s one horse that can take me a long way.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 7, 2014 as "Brothers in arms". Subscribe here.