Andrew Thornton hits landmark of riding 1000 domestic winners

Tony McCoy with Ruby Walsh (left) and Andrew Thornton (right)
Image: Andrew Thornton (right) has joined an elite group of jockeys

Andrew Thornton achieved his long-held dream of riding 1000 domestic winners when completing a 77/1 double at Wincanton on Kentford Myth.

The 44-year-old joined an elite list that includes Sir Anthony McCoy, Richard Johnson, Richard Dunwoody and Peter Scudamore when finally achieving the landmark after a career that began 26 years ago.

Both his winners were for a great supporter in trainer Seamus Mullins.

Thornton had fortune on his side as Kentford Myth (12/1) was gifted the lead three out when the clear leader Antarctic De Thaix fell. The six-year-old went on to beat Mollyanna, who was the only other finisher after four had set out in the Bathwick Tyres EBF/Tba Mares' Novices' Chase.

"To do it for Seamus and ride a double for him and Ian Bare (owner) on a novice chaser, it couldn't have happened on a better horse," said Thornton, who had made it 999 on Somchine in the Armishaws Removals Mid Season Handicap Chase.

It was pretty straightforward after the 5/1 chance jumped into the lead at the second-last fence. Clear over the final obstacle, Somchine won cosily by five lengths from the 6/4 favourite Dusty Lark.

Thornton, who had been stuck on 996, broke his collarbone in October, but that did not deter him from his quest and the last three winners he needed came in quick succession.

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Win number 998 came on Barton Gift at Bangor on Thursday and he reached the magic figure when racing resumed after the short Christmas break.

Thornton had his first ride in November 1990, but had to wait 12 months for his first winner at Sedgefield.

His 1000th winner was coming exactly 19 years to the day he won the King George VI Chase at Kempton on See More Business for Paul Nicholls in 1997.

In 1998 Thornton won the Cheltenham Gold Cup for Robert Alner on Cool Dawn, while he also enjoyed a fruitful association with the brilliant but ill-fated French Holly.

Trained by Ferdy Murphy, French Holly won the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in 1998, before finishing third to Istabraq in the following year's Champion Hurdle.

He won his only novice chase in October 1999 but died in an accident on the gallops just a few days later.

"From where I started back in 1990 and riding for Arthur Stephenson in the late 1980s, it's been some journey and it's what dreams are made of," Thornton told At The Races.

"I've just enjoyed the journey. There have been ups and downs, peaks and troughs, but that is what jump racing is all about.

"I started to ride out for (the late) Arthur Stephenson when I was 14 or 15. I used to spend a week there at Christmas and at Easter and got the bug.

"I'll be indebted to him for giving me the chance.

"I won the Gold Cup on Cool Dawn and that race is the blue riband. It came at the right time in my career and Robert's. Sally (Alner) plated a big part, too. He was the toughest horse I ever rode.

"I won three Grade Ones on French Holly. I was never thought of as a hurdles jockey. He wasn't an agile horse, but he tried his heart out and ability-wise he was a fantastic horse.

"I have so many people to thank - Mercy Rimell is one. To ride that winner (Barton Gift) the other day probably gave me as much pleasure as all the winners I've had."

Guarded on the question of possible retirement, Thonrton added: "I missed my last two rides as somehow I managed to twist my right knee when I got off the horse (Kentford Myth). I turned very quickly.

"I'm going to enjoy this. It's taken me 26 years to get there. I'm going to be off for a few days as I'm very sore at the moment.

"I'm going to sit back, reflect and enjoy and see how the knee is as much as anything and go from there.

"I'm privileged to get where I am. I couldn't have done it without all the trainers who have supported me.

"I've ridden for about 176 trainers overall in my career. A lot of them are my friends."

Mullins said: "It's a marvellous achievement for him and so nice that he did it on one of my horses and for my longest-standing owner, Ian Bare, as well. The three of us go back about 20 years or so.

"It was an up and down day. I lost a nice horse in the previous race, Western Cape, then Andrew rides his 1000th winner and when he jumped off he twisted his knee and was stood down for the rest of the day."

Nick Robson takes a look at five of his best rides:

1. COOL DAWN, CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP, 1998

The pinnacle of National Hunt racing, Thornton partnered Robert Alner's 25-1 winner to a stirring success over Strong Promise and favourite Dorans Pride. The race is probably better remembered for the controversial circumstances in which See More Business (more of him later) was carried out but Thornton avoided all trouble by forcing the pace throughout. The former hunter chaser had previously been ridden by his owner, Dido Harding (apart from when third in the 1996 Irish National), but for the start of the 97-98 season Thornton took over. He won his first three outings before being pulled up at Sandown with an injury, hence his rather big starting price. Unfortunately his Cheltenham win was his last and he was unable to recapture the same form in four subsequent races before he was retired.

2. KINGSCLIFF, CORAL.UK HANDICAP CHASE, ASCOT, 2003

Another ex-point-to-pointer with which Alner excelled, he had won the Foxhunter at Cheltenham the previous March before Thornton assumed duties in the saddle the following November. All was going swimmingly for the first two fences and then the left rein broke, meaning Thornton had to ride over three-quarters of a race on just one rein. In a great display of horsemanship from Thornton, Kingscliff negotiated the rest of the fences with aplomb and galloped to a 17-length victory. It was a brilliant ride and the horse would go on to finish second in a King George and win a Betfair Chase.

3. MIKO DE BEAUCHENE, CORAL WELSH NATIONAL, CHEPSTOW, 2007

An out-and-out stayer, there was really only one race a year which the mud-lover could be aimed at and it all came together in 2007. On soft ground he travelled as well as he ever had done but was still two lengths down on Halcon Genelardais (previous year's winner) at the final fence. Thornton galvanised his mount, though, wrapping his long legs around his mount in a driving finish and getting the verdict by a head.

4. SEE MORE BUSINESS, KING GEORGE VI CHASE, KEMPTON, 1997

See More Business was the horse who really put Paul Nicholls on the map but with Mick Fitzgerald required to ride his Grand National winner Rough Quest, he called on Thornton to partner his young buck. Only seven, he arrived having won the Rehearsal Chase and was improving quickly, although not many expected him to beat the likes of Suny Bay and One Man. Given a positive ride by Thornton, he looked a sitting duck in the straight as Tony McCoy loomed up on Challenger Du Luc but not for the first time he found little off the bridle and Thornton gained a major success. He would only ride him once more, when he won another Rehearsal Chase in 2002.

5. FRENCH HOLLY, ROYAL & SUNALLIANCE HURDLE, CHELTENHAM, 1998

Described by Thornton as "easily the best hurdler I've ever ridden", the Ferdy Murphy-trained giant destroyed the opposition at the Cheltenham Festival in a season in which he went unbeaten and the sky looked the limit. Despite paying hurdles no respect, he powered to a 14-length victory. Unfortunately he was never able to really fulfilled his potential, despite winning the Christmas Hurdle and the Prix La Barka at Auteuil. Thornton rode him 13 times and his only defeats were to Dato Star in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and to Istabraq at Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Aintree. Having won his first race over fences he was sadly put down a week later following a training accident.

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