By Kyra Gillespie
Pakenham jockey Ben Allen has been thrust into the spotlight after being selected to run in the Melbourne Cup, just one-and-a-half hours before the big race.
The 18-year-old apprentice was given the opportunity of a lifetime after Brazilian superstar jockey Joao Moreira suffered a horror fall from the Chris Waller-trained Regal Monarch in the fourth race on the card.
Trainer Willie Mullins picked the teenager from a small available group of lightweight riders at Flemington to ride Irish raider Thomas Hobson on Tuesday 7 November.
Allen then had to lose more than 1.3kg, a feat made possible, he claims, through energy drinks and sweating in the spa.
“I was pretty excited but I didn’t really have time to get nervous because I had to lose that weight,” Allen said.
“I jumped straight in the spa and grabbed an energy drink to get the heartrate up.
“I couldn’t think about the race until I got past the weight.”
The next big hurdle for Allen was getting familiar with the horse.
“I got a run down from the trainer so I had a good idea of how to ride him.
“We jockeys are pretty used to hopping on horses that we’re not familiar with but often we get to come in before for a final gallop to get a feel for the horse before a race.
“I like to sit on them before I race, but there was no time for that this time around.”
Despite receiving the carpark draw of number 21, Allen came an impressive sixth place in the famous Flemington two miler.
“The tempo out there wasn’t great and the track wasn’t even. We all sprinted together from the 800, so nothing can make up that ground.
“I was speaking with a track expert and he reckons that if the track had been even, I could have won the race.
“It’s a bit unlucky but at the end of the day you have to ride to the pattern of the track.”
Allen has only been racing since he was 15 years old. Now, three years on and barely old enough to drive a car, he has done what most riders with years of experience only dream about.
“Being able to ride in a race like that has given me a tonne of confidence in all my other races.
“Willie is the best trainer in the UK so to ride for him was unreal.
“Joao is the leading rider in Hong Kong, if not the world. To replace him on a horse and get the ride of the day was a crazy experience.”
He is trained by his father John, is managed by his sister, and is half-brother to fellow jockey Matthew Allen so riding has always been a huge part of the Allen family.
Their 78 acre property on Pakenham Road was where Ben first learned to ride.
“Riding has always been a part of my life. I started riding when I was about two years old on our Shetland pony around our property.
“Then I went to the Pakenham Pony Club for about five years where I learned a lot about riding and jumping.
“Then when I turned 13 I was old enough to start riding track work and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a jockey.”
From Pakenham Hills Primary School to Beaconhills College, Pakenham, Ben quickly discovered that he had a bigger passion for riding than he did for essays and algebra.
“I wasn’t the best at school so when I got to Year 10 I decided I wanted to start race riding and it’s the best thing I’ve ever decided to do.
“Having my dad as a trainer meant that I got to start a lot earlier than others usually do. I was an apprentice by the time I was 15.
“It’s awesome training with dad. At first he was pretty tough on me because in racing you really only get one good first impression. You definitely get remembered for a bad race.”
The Allen family now resides at a smaller property in Pakenham South and owns about 20 retired horses and a handful of racehorses.
Ben hopes that this run in the Melbourne Cup is just one of many to come.
“I really hope to make it again next year.
“I think I’ve got a genuine shot at riding Lord Fandango in the cup next year. His owners have had a lot of luck so I’m hoping to be able to ride him next year.
“For now I just have to keep on riding and training to get there.”