Andrew Thornton reflects on long career as final rides loom

Andrew Thornton’s retirement at Uttoxeter today will signal the end of an era in weighing rooms up and down Britain.

The 1998 Gold Cup-winning jockey is calling it a day following a career in the saddle which saw him ride his first winner way back in 1991 for northern training great Arthur Stephenson.

As well as Cool Dawn in the blue riband, there were two other Cheltenham Festival successes and a raft of other big-race successes.

The Welsh National on Miko De Beauchene, the King George VI Chase on See More Business and the Hennessy Gold Cup on Gingembre mean there is one glaring omission from his CV.

I think Simon was my best chance of a Grand National winner. He won the Great Yorkshire Chase and the Racing Post Chase, but fell at Valentine’s on the second circuit (at Aintree),” said Thornton.

“I tried my best and I won a Welsh and a Scottish National, but Aintree was the one that got away.”

Thornton has four rides at the Midlands venue, starting with Edward Elgar in the second division of the two-mile handicap hurdle, aptly renamed the Andrew Thornton Congratulations On Your Retirement Handicap Hurdle.

“He’ll have an each-way chance. He has his own ideas, but if he’s on a going day then he’ll have a chance. I’ve been riding for Caroline Bailey for about 10 years and had a few nice wins on Noble Legend for her,” said Thornton.

“Then it’s Amirr for Seamus Mullins. I think I had my first ride for him in 1995, we go back a long way. He’s definitely got a chance on his last run. Back on decent ground and after a break - he’d be my best chance.

“Westerberry would have an each-way chance, she is what she is.

My last ride is Manhattan Spring and he looks to have Paul Nicholls’ Stradivarius Davis to beat. Saxon Warrior looked a good thing in the Derby, though, so you should never be scared of one!

He added: “People have been saying some very nice things since I announced it (retirement), but I’ve tried not to read the papers. I will sit down when it is all over and look at it all and then I can appreciate it.”

As for career highlights and memorable rides, there have not surprisingly been plenty in a near 30-year spell.

Many will remember his ride on Kingscliff in 2003 at Ascot, when the reins broke, although Thornton does not see that example of horsemanship as his best effort.

“Everyone talks about that, but once the rein had broken there wasn’t much I could do, I just let him get on with it,” he said.

“I think Mike De Beauchene in the Welsh National was my best, it sticks out because it was emotional. His trainer Robert Alner had had a really bad car accident just six weeks earlier, so it meant a lot.

“I was as vigorous as I’ve ever been on a horse and he answered every question.

One of the horses I most enjoyed riding was Super Tactics. He got in a white lather, his teeth were grinding and his eyes would be bulging. I called him Mr Angry, he was a one-off and a brave man’s ride. He was very good at Kempton.

“My first Festival ride on Maamur was a winner for Captain (Tim) Forster, he was miles out of the weights but was never going to get beat that day.

“The best I rode was French Holly, who knows what he might have achieved if he hadn’t died early. The day he won the SunAlliance Hurdle at Cheltenham he had the world at his feet.”

Thornton has seen many changes in the game, but reckons the biggest difference is the mindset of the new breed of jockeys.

“I’d say the professionalism of the lads now is the biggest change. The advances in physiotherapy, improvement in diet and fitness - you can’t play at this game or you get found out,” said Thornton.

“I think that was brought about by John Francome. I’ve spanned two eras really, with Francs, Peter Scudamore, Richard Dunwoody and Jamie Osborne passing on to AP (McCoy), Dicky (Richard Johnson) and Timmy Murphy et al.

“I don’t think it will be possible for anyone to match the number AP and Dicky have racked up, simply because there is no trainer as dominant these days.

“James Bowen has a similar style to AP in his younger days, but obviously has a long way to go. I’m a big fan of Nico de Boinville, too - you don’t see many of his rides make mistakes and I think he’s very underrated.”


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