Ben Knobel, seen on Playwright (rails), believes that in a high-pressure environment like racing, having an old head on your shoulders might help.

Ben Knobel, seen on Playwright (rails), believes that in a high-pressure environment like racing, having an old head on your shoulders might help. Photo: Ken Irwin

CAULFIELD WRAP

WHEN parents invest heavily in their youngest son's education and their cherished hope is that he follows in his father's footsteps to become a doctor, it's hardly surprising they are unenthusiastic when he quits university for a job cleaning up after horses and scrubbing down ponies in a local stable.

Most apprentice jockeys come out of their time by their early 20s, but Ben Knobel is not like most apprentices. For a start he is 26.

And as an old boy of Mornington's Peninsula School it's fair to say that he has probably had a rather more expensive, if not necessarily extensive, education than many of his contemporaries. How many of them have begun any further study beyond the apprentices' school, never mind embarking on a degree in exercise science, designed to prepare them for a career as a sports psychologist?

Knobel, who had his claim cut from three kilograms to two with a Caulfield double yesterday aboard Manila Jewel for David Hayes and Classy Chloe, a South Australian raider prepared by John Hickmott, quickly decided he would rather work on the minds of horses rather than humans.

So he got a job with Shane Stockdale, to whom he was initially indentured, and from whom he learnt the basics of stable craft and how to ride before transferring to Mornington neighbour Tony Noonan. Ultimately he wound up at Caulfield with his current boss Mick Price.

Yesterday, he scored by four lengths on Manila Jewel ($3.40) in the Kevin Dunne Handicap, and was then seen at his strongest and most determined aboard Classy Chloe ($3.40) in the Barbara Booth Handicap.

The filly had, as is her custom, made all of the running but looked beaten by You Tell Me ($16), partnered by Peter Mertens, when the latter hit the front. But somehow Knobel conjured up another effort in the shadows of the post to drive Classy Chloe home a narrow winner on the line.

Knobel's city double was his second in a career punctuated by absences because of injury and, with winter coming on - the period when trainers traditionally employ claiming apprentices - he knows it is his opportunity to shine.

''It definitely helps at this time of year to have a claim,'' said Knobel, who can ride at 53 kilograms. ''When the tracks soften up trainers often want to claim off the higher-weighted horses.

''Mum and dad always had ponies. I was playing every other sport, but they were going to the races a lot and I liked that and that's how my interest developed.

''This is my fourth year race riding. I couldn't stay on the pony at first, but you have to see it through the hard times and get to the other side. It's very hard work but rewarding.''

In fact, Knobel believes that in such a high-pressure environment as racing, having an old head on your shoulders might help. ''You have a bit more experience of the outside world and can cope with the pressure a lot better.''

He was not the only jockey to score twice, as his effort was paralleled by Mark Zahra, who won on the Darley two-year-old Haussman ($6) in the Routley's Handicap and followed up aboard Miss Bindi ($9) for Cindy Alderson in the Gail Jackson Handicap.

It was perhaps the least Alderson deserved as she trains You Tell Me.

Mick Price sent out Stratcombe($2.30 favourite) to record an impressive win in the Manfred Phillips Handicap at his home track and then forecast better things ahead for the now-gelded son of Stratum, who won for the sixth time in 11 starts.

''He's a useful horse,'' Price said. ''We will give him a break and have a look at some of the better races in the spring. He's capable of being some sort of black-type horse.''