Winning feature races is second nature to the Thompson family, but they entered unchartered territory – even by their lofty standards – on Saturday, celebrating an unforgettable dual code Group double.
Amid scenes of high emotion, star young jockey Ben Thompson, son of champion trainer Jason and Melbourne Cup-winning wife Seona, steered Uncommon James to victory in the Oakleigh Plate at Sandown, his first Group 1 victory.
“It’s not quite 48 hours since the race and it’s still very surreal,” Ben said on Monday afternoon.
“I went out to The Meadows after the races and then Mum dropped me at the airport on Saturday night and I flew home to ride at the Sunshine Coast yesterday (Sunday).
“It’s great to see so many greyhound racing people taking an interest in my career.”
“But my wife Steph (Thornton) and I went out for a nice dinner last night and I’m actually looking at the Plate now! It’s starting to sink in.
“Riding a Group 1 winner is something a lot of close friends and other people I rub shoulders with have achieved, so to join the club is amazing!”
Fittingly, the Oakleigh Plate triumph represented a triumphant return home for the 26-year-old Queensland-based hoop, back to where his remarkable cross-code racing journey began.
“The way it transpired was unbelievable,” said Ben.
“To happen in Melbourne, where I’m from, my hometown, where I did my apprenticeship and started off as a senior rider. To have Mum there – unfortunately, Dad couldn’t be there – I couldn’t have scripted it any better.
“The way all the puzzle pieces fell into place was amazing.
“People were saying it was the best Oakleigh Plate field in years, if not ever, but I knew I was on a horse that was good enough.
“I’ve had a lot to do with Uncommon James. I’d had three wins from three rides on him before Saturday and I’ve ridden him in all his trials, bar three.
“Uncommon James’ trainers, Steve O’Dea and Matt Hoysted, have been huge supporters of mine and he’s owned by Matt’s wife Caitlin and her parents, so it was a real family affair.
“Steph and I also have a share in a greyhound called Umberto, which was in the (G3) Maiden Final at The Meadows on Saturday night.
“When I got to The Meadows I saw lots of people I’ve known most of my life. I’ve been overwhelmed by calls and messages and it’s great to see so many greyhound racing people taking an interest in my career.”
The realities of racing meant only Ben’s mother Seona and sister Sophie were at the gallops, with brother Luke and sister Holly at The Meadows, while Dad Jason was on home duties.
“I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard Ben so confident about winning a race, let alone a Group 1 race,” Jason said.
“Ben’s done a great job. He had his first ride at 17, so he hasn’t been riding for ten years.
“He was dux of his class at the Apprentice’s School, he outrode his city claim as an apprentice, he won the World Apprentice Championship in Abu Dhabi, he rode Group and Listed winners in Singapore, and he’s currently second in the Metro Jockey Premiership in Brisbane.”
After Ben’s greyhound Umberto ran fourth in the G3 Vic Bred Maiden Final, kennelmate Stealth, handled by younger brother Luke, iced an already sweet cake when leading all-the-way in the G3 Country Championship Final (525m).
WATCH: STEALTH (B1) capped off a memorable day for the Thompson family when leading all-the-way in the G3 Country Championship (525m), clocking 29.95sec to record his fifth straight win.
Stealth ($2.10 favourite), a son of Bernardo and Utopia, a half-sister to former Thompson-trained talent Phenomenal, clocked 29.95sec to record his fifth straight win and 11th from 27 overall.
“I was very happy with him,” said Jason Thompson.
“He did have box one, although it’s probably not as big an advantage to him, because he’s a bullet-proof beginner.
“He had the fastest dog in the race (Die Hard) sitting on him, but he fought hard, and his time was only a length and a half off the Australian Cup winner (Fernando Mick – 29.85sec).
“He had five or six weeks off and since coming back, he’s had five starts, won them all and been very impressive.
“He’s gone from being a nice Grade 5 city dog to a level above that and it will be interesting to see where he can get to over the next couple of months.”
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