ANDREW THORNTON’S long and illustrious career will come to an end at Uttoxeter tomorrow, seventeen years after he rode his first winner.
The veteran jockey retires with a CV bursting with big-race victories, including the 1997 King George VI Chase, the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup and the 2002 Hennessy Gold Cup.
The popular rider also partnered multiple Cheltenham Festival winners and, just over a year ago, succeeding in reaching one thousand victories under rules.
Although the long-serving veteran never managed to win the Grand National, triumphs in the Scottish and Welsh editions have marginally eased the pain.
He said: “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).
“I tried my best and I won a Welsh and a Scottish National, but Aintree was the one that got away.”
Uttoxeter will bear witness to Thornton’s last ever book of rides, and the 46-year-old is confident of bowing out with at least one more success.
Edward Elgar will be his first ride and some place money could be on offer at the very least.
“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.
“After that I ride 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!
“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.”
Unsurprisingly in a career that has spanned almost three decades, there have been plenty of ups and downs.
Few can forget the ride aboard Kingscliff in 2003, where Thornton demonstrated tremendous jockeyship to stay in the saddle despite having to direct his mount with broken reins.
“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.
As for his greatest moment, Thornton is in no doubt. “I think Miko 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.”
Andrew Thornton’s final rides at Uttoxeter tomorrow
After having spent so long at the top of the game, it’s little wonder Thornton is opinionated on how the sport has changed for his colleagues.
He said: “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.
“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.”
As for riders to look out for in the future, there are a couple Thornton earmarks as being future champions.
“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.”
You can see Thornton’s final rides from 2.10 tomorrow, live on At The Races.