Son Of A Gun Set To Debut
Courtesy of James Tzaferis, Racing Victoria Limited
The boxes are loaded, the bunny is rolling and Ben Thompson can’t wait to chase it.
After the best part of 18 months developing his skills and knowledge in Racing Victoria’s Apprentice Jockey Training Program (AJTP), the popular teenager will make his race riding debut at Kilmore on Saturday.
But unlike many of his AJTP classmates who have grown up in racing families, the momentous occasion has only been a couple of years in the making for Thompson, who hadn’t sat on a horse until early 2012.
The son of leading Victorian greyhound trainer Jason Thompson, the 17-year-old grew up working with four-legged animals of a different kind to those he now rides every morning at Cranbourne.
“It’s all very exciting now knowing how close I am to riding and I’m really looking forward to Saturday,” Thompson said.
“Dad has been training for over 30 years and ever since I could walk I’d go to the (greyhound) trials with dad.
“I started riding trackwork in January last year after jumping on a horse for the first time over Easter in 2012, so to think about having my first race ride now is amazing.”
While his passion has shifted to thoroughbreds, Thompson admits greyhound racing remains a major part of his life with his daily routine often involving hands-on work with the canine talent in his father’s large kennel.
But joining his dad in the family business was never really considered as a career option by Thompson who, until being encouraged by employer and mentor Mick Kent to apply for the AJTP, had his sights set on attending University.
“I first rode horses with Frankie Stockdale because my dad owns horses with him and then my godfather, who was friends with Mick (Kent) before he went to Singapore, got me some work there,” Thompson said.
“I was working every weekend for about three to four months and one Sunday after I’d finished a riding lesson at the stables Mick asked me if I had any intentions of becoming an apprentice.
“I jumped at the opportunity and had my meeting and then completed various testing.
“Once I was accepted into the program things started to speed up a bit and I was riding trackwork about two and a half months later.
“At the moment, I start at the stables at 4am and I’m home at about 10am and then I’m helping dad with the dogs from 11.30am until 1.30pm before we feed up later in the afternoon.
“Before I got into the thoroughbreds, the main aim was to go to University and pursue something in Sport Management or Sports Media which I’d still like to follow after I finish race riding.”
“At the moment, I start at the stables at 4am and I’m home at about 10am and then I’m helping dad with the dogs from 11.30am until 1.30pm before we feed up later in the afternoon” – BEN THOMPSON
While his rides this weekend, three at Kilmore on Saturday and one at Hamilton on Sunday, aren’t for Kent, Thompson said he couldn’t speak highly enough of the grounding he has received under the Cranbourne-based maestro.
“I do look up to Mick in a very high way and he’s someone I like to model myself on,” Thompson said.
“He’s very professional, very intelligent and I have a huge respect for the advice he gives and the way he operates.
“Whether you are training horses or riding them, you can take a lot from him and, with the experience he’s had, there’s probably not a better master.”
As a second-year student alongside the likes of Regan Bayliss, Lily Coombe, Boris Thornton and Emily Tremelling, Thompson spends two days a month at Racing Victoria’s Flemington headquarters, undergoing specialist learning in areas such as form analysis, sports science and sports medicine as well as media, finance and business.
During the four-year AJTP, athletes are under the guidance of RV’s Jockey Coaches, retired jockey Matthew Pumpa and former Victorian trainer Matthew Hyland, Jockey Wellbeing and Safety Officer, Ron Hall, and dedicated Athlete Development and Industry Careers Advisor, Melissa Weatherley.
In addition to crediting RV’s Raceday Stewards Panel Form Analyst Andre Kassay and respected sports psychologist Lisa Stevens as valuable mentors during his 18 months in the program, Thompson is also thankful of the regular advice received from senior Victorian jockeys.
“We have a pretty elite program here and I think it’s probably the best in the country when it comes to training apprentice jockeys,” Thompson said.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way and I’m confident in my ability in the saddle but you’re constantly learning and I think the key to improving is to always look to go further rather than getting comfortable with where you’re at.
“With my riding, I probably owe a lot to jockeys like Craig Williams and Damien Oliver who I was working as valet for over the autumn.
“They’re both very different in the way they operate on raceday and the way they ride so it’s good having two different people to model myself on.
“Craig is the ultimate professional in the way he operates and he even came to my house and helped me with my technique and style on the mechanical horse.”
On Saturday, Thompson will partner Appassionata for Nikki Burke in the McIvor Estate Maiden Plate (1100m) before taking two rides for Lee And Shannon Hope, Commemorate in a 1450m Benchmark 64 Handicap and Aces And Angels in a Benchmark 70 Handicap over 1100m.
A trip to Hamilton on Sunday to ride returning six-year-old Mr Trim for Leigh Childs rounds out his weekend and Thompson is confident he has a book of rides that can potentially provide him with a memorable debut.
“Aces And Angels steps out first-up from a win at Wangaratta and Commemorate has pretty good city form,” Thompson said.
“Without going into videos and looking at the opposition, I’m pretty happy with the rides that I’ve got and, being seasoned and mature horses, they’ll be nice ones to start on.”