Choc's away: Thornton's finally back in the saddle
ROBERT Thornton can expect a warm welcome at the Showcase meeting at Cheltenham following his successful return from a long-term lay-off.
The popular 35-year-old – affectionately known as Choc – spent the whole of the summer out of action after sustaining arm and back injuries in a fall at Southwell in February which forced him to miss the Cheltenham Festival, where he has ridden 16 winners.
The long wait proved worthwhile as Thornton looked like he had never been away in driving Letsby Avenue to victory at Stratford on September 17 for boss Alan King.
And the in-form combination set themselves up for the Showcase meeting in style with a double at Chepstow on Saturday.
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Thornton said he had intentionally delayed his return to competitive action until the jumps season started to approach top gear, rather than come back during the relatively quieter summer months.
Once he was cleared to do so, he started riding out for a variety of trainers as well as going to renowned jockeys' rehabilitation centre Oaksey House to build up his fitness.
"When I got to May, because it's the third big bang I've had, I decided to give it plenty of time," said Thornton, who lives in Guiting Power.
"Alan doesn't normally have many runners through the summer, although it hasn't turned out that way this year and he's probably had the best season since he started.
"The staff at Oaksey House do a great job and over the last six to eight weeks leading up to riding again I got in there most days.
"I was really pleased to ride a winner on my first ride back, and it just worked out really well.
"It probably looked like it was set up a little bit, but it wasn't at all. I had said to Alan that I'd be coming back on the 17th and it turned out great."
Now that he is back in the winning groove, Thornton can turn his attentions to the rest of the jumps campaign and underline why he has established himself as one of the best jump jockeys in Britain since riding a double at the 1997 Festival as an amateur jockey aboard Pharanear and King Lucifer.
Thornton can't realistically expect to reach the 100-winner mark this season, as he did in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
But he will be pulling out all the stops to achieve as much success as possible with the powerful support of long-time ally King and his battalion of talented horses.
"Target-wise I just want to get back to riding plenty of winners," said Thornton. "I do have a figure in my head but I'm not going to say it!
"With regards to where I am in the jockeys' table, that's gone and that's of no interest to me this time around.
"Obviously I'd love to get back into the top 10, but numerically that's probably not possible this season. But that's where I want to be.
"So this season I'll be looking to ride plenty of winners, plenty of good horses and riding at the big Saturday meetings and the other big meetings through the season.
"That's what I want and that's what I'll be looking forward to."
Thornton has been associated with an array of top-class horses trained by King, notably two-time Festival winners My Way De Solzen and Voy Por Ustedes and Champion Hurdle winner Katchit.
He will be looking to enjoy further success with the Barbury Castle trainer with the current crop of stars at his stable in Wiltshire.
"There are plenty of good horses at Alan's and it will be interesting to see how the horses coming back from injury get on, like Invictus, Mountbazon and Medermit, so there's lots to look forward to," said Thornton.
"Then there's a couple of Irish pointers in Carraig Mor and Unknown Legend, and there are plenty of nice three-year-olds.
"I'm really looking forward to Montbazon. I don't know what the plans for him are, but they'll probably give him a run over hurdles, but I'd love to see him jump a fence.
"He jumped the last hurdle in front in the 2012 Supreme Novices', but he didn't jump a hurdle before it.
"If he'd have jumped two of the hurdles he'd have won. He came back with wicked sore shins, but he still finished fourth.
"So he could be anything, absolutely anything."