Brock Ryan has ridden in some of racing's biggest days.
He's rode winners in front of thousands of screaming fans at both Randwick and Rosehill. They're moments he will never forget.
But The Gong will always hold a special place for the Kembla Grange apprentice.
"This meeting is just as good as the big Sydney meetings," Ryan said. "We saw last week with The Hunter, it's a different track, but they still have a big race vibe.
"It's a big thrill riding on what's been my home track my whole apprenticeship. Stacks of my family and friends will be there. People know me as a Gong boy these days so it will be a big thrill if I can win the big one on my home track."
Ryan will saddle up the favourite for the $1 million The Gong, Robert and Luke Price's Count De Rupee.
Ryan rode Jonker in the first edition of The Gong in 2019, the $51 chance leading early before fading to finish 11th. Last year he didn't even have a ride in the feature.
The jockey has enjoyed a breakthrough spring, winning his first Group races and guiding Count De Rupee to second in the Golden Eagle. Despite this, the apprentice admits he wasn't expecting to secure a ride for Saturday's $1 million race.
"Jonker was an outside chance, I considered myself lucky to have that ride. Last year I didn't have a ride, but I rode two winners on the day and that was a big thrill, it put a big smile on my face.
"This year, to be on the favourite is awesome. I didn't expect to have a ride in The Gong last year and I didn't expect it this year either.
"I've landed on the favourite, it will be great if I can get the job done and reward the bosses and owners for their faith in me."
Count De Rupee received no home-track favours from Wednesday's barrier draw, the horse handed gate 17.
Also drawing wide are Criaderas in barrier 20, defending champion Archedemus in 19 and Chris Waller's Aramayo in 14.
Peter and Paul Snowden's I Am Superman will jump from barrier one and is now second-favourite, with stablemate Exoboom to start from gate 10.
"They're very good," Paul Snowden told Sky Racing. "They both went to the beach this morning after doing their main piece of work Saturday and Tuesday.
"I've got to say, we're in a good spot with both horses, they're in extremely good order. We're looking forward to Saturday."
While they would have liked to draw an inside gate, Robert Price said a wide barrier could be ideal if the track remains soft.
"A lot about the barrier draw revolves around the weather," Price said. "If it rains, maybe you don't want to draw too soft."
After multiple ups and downs, Ryan's apprenticeship is nearing its conclusion. The jockey has just two more weeks before he joins the senior ranks.
He has worked closely with Robert and Luke in recent times and credits their guidance for helping him achieve stunning success as an apprentice.
He admits it's a daunting prospect, but it's one his masters feel he's fully prepared for.
The Prices trusted Ryan to ride Jamaea in the Group 1 Golden Rose before putting him on Count De Rupee for the Golden Eagle and The Gong.
They're decisions the co-trainers wouldn't have made if they didn't have full faith in the apprentice.
"We felt a bit of pressure with young Brock but Luke and I were determined to make it work," Robert said. "His work ethic is second to none and he's gone to the next level now.
"It's a move that's paid off, he's had three opportunities and was second in a stakes race, won a Group 2 and was beaten the other day in a $7.5 million race after a perfect ride. He comes out of his apprenticeship in December, this is a good way to start."
Luke agreed with his father's assessment and is tipping big things from Ryan as a senior jockey.
"I've got no doubt he'll get himself a place in the top 10 in Sydney jockeys in the next couple of years," Luke said. "He'll deserve that spot because he works hard and the harder you work the more rewards you're going to get."
With his apprenticeship almost up, Ryan is starting to look to the future.
But for now, he has his eyes fully focused on this weekend. He couldn't think of a better way to cap his time as a trainee than taking out The Gong.
"If I win this race on my home track for the bosses, going out with a bang before I step into the senior ranks, that would be awesome," Ryan said."
Sports reporter at the Illawarra Mercury
Sports reporter at the Illawarra Mercury
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