Whenever jockey Tommy Berry wins a race, he looks to the skies and thanks his inspiration – his late twin brother Nathan.
Born 14 minutes apart, they shared a deep love of horse racing that translated itself into success on the track and catapulted them into the leading echelons of Australian jockeys.
But Nathan, the older of the two, was struck down by Norse Syndrome, an acute form of epilepsy that attacks the brain through seizures and affects only one in a million people.
He died in April last year, aged just 23, after collapsing in Singapore, where he had begun a four-month riding contract.
Tommy told CNN that his brother’s memory spurs him on every time he competes.
“We just had a connection that you can’t explain,” he said. “I believe that Nathan helps me in each race that I ride in, so he is the first person I want to thank.”
Nathan won the $1.5 million Magic Millions Gold Coast 2YO Classic in January 2014, emulating his brother’s victories in that race in 2011-12, to further enhance his rapidly-growing reputation.
Tommy has continued to impress since his brother’s passing, unveiling his now trademark post-race salute to the heavens after winning the $2.7 million Golden Slipper Stakes aboard Vancouver in March.
But the triumphs they enjoyed hadn’t initially appeared that likely in their younger days.
“I don’t think you ever saw two fatter kids. We were like two little football players, and we were never going to be able to ride winners because we were too big,” recalled Tommy, who has registered nearly 600 victories since 2011.
“But as we got a bit older, the passion for racing came in and we really wanted to be jockeys.
“I never got more satisfaction than not being in a race but cheering Nathan on.
“He gave an amazing ride in the Magic Millions to win quite well, and I think everyone then started to stand up and take notice of what a good rider he was.”
Nathan’s illness struck suddenly, and his brother explained: “It’s a bug that attacks the brain and made it shut down … they couldn’t find a way to get past it.”
Getting back to horse racing, he said, had helped him cope with the enormity of the loss.
“The only time I felt at ease was when I was riding – it was something we both loved,” he said.
“Now I ride for him, not just for myself, and that gives me comfort in getting through everyday life.”