Top apprentice Ben Thompson aiming for group 1 lightweights as carnival looms

Ben Thompson is aiming for group 1 success during the autumn carnival. Photo: Reg RyanTop apprentice Ben Thompson made a massive breakthrough in the spring when he secured rides on outsiders in the Melbourne and Caulfield cups. The teenager is hoping to keep the momentum going in the autumn in the big group 1 handicaps over the next few weeks.
Nanjing Night Net

Races such as the Oakleigh Plate and the Newmarket Handicap, both valuable legs of the autumn sprinters triple crown, are often contested by lightweight, improving horses whose weight is beyond the range of many senior jockeys.

And that is where Thompson is hoping to score even though the big carnivals – where senior jockeys mop up most of the rides – are traditionally a difficult time for claiming apprentices.

“I will be doing my best to get some big race rides, hopefully some lightweight opportunities come my way, which is possible as I walk around at 49 or 50 kilos,” he said.

The spring carnival experience still burns brightly in his memory.

“I was able to get rides in the Thousand Guineas and the Caulfield and Melbourne cups, which were unbelievable experiences.

“I rode Paris With Love in the Thousand Guineas, De Little Engine in the Caulfield Cup and Rose Of Virginia in the Melbourne Cup. It probably hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

That’s hardly surprising. The son of a greyhound trainer who grew up in Pearcedale, near Cranbourne, Thompson has only been race riding for a couple of years and wasn’t around stables from the time he could walk, as so many jockeys are.

“I hadn’t ridden a horse as a kid. It will be five years this April from when I first sat on a horse. But my Dad trains greyhounds, so I got involved through friends.

“My family are very good friends with Frankie Stockdale [a former jockey now trainer] and his family, and one school holidays Frankie asked me if I would like to go up. I said yes without much thought to get out of the house. One thing led to another, I went the following school holidays, I did work experience that year – I was in year 10 – and then I got a job later with [Cranbourne trainer] Mick Kent.

“I was apprenticed to Mick, but I have been with Allan Williams coming up to 18 months.”

Williams, a former jockey, is the father of multiple group 1 and premiership-winning rider Craig, who is always on hand to offer advice.

“Craig is only a phone call away, which is a huge help. He is a big support. I sit close to him for most race meetings and I worked as his valet before I started riding. He’s the ultimate professional and I have taken as much from him as I could.”

What would make it a perfect autumn for Thompson is if he can get aboard a horse his parents own, Zarpoya, in the million-dollar Blue Diamond.

“I ride a bit for Robbie Griffiths and my parents have a two-year-old with him who ran second on Friday night at the Valley. It would be a dream to have a ride in the Blue Diamond partnering her for Mum and Dad.

“She ran third in the Merson Cooper, a listed race, at her first start when I rode her. The way she is going, she should get in the field.”

*Moonee Valley are hoping to crack the 10,000 barrier for attendance on Friday night when they stage their annual Chinese New Year meeting.

Adelaide-based Hong Kong apprentice Matthew Poon will be riding, and there will be Chinese food and entertainment to help racegoers get in the swing for the celebrations.

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