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Exeter: Thornton so close to fairytale comeback

No winner, but the broadest smile at Exeter yesterday belonged to Robert ‘Choc’ Thornton after a comeback that defied medical opinion.

After a horror fall in July that snapped three of the four ligaments in his right knee, doctors predicted as much as a year on the sidelines for the jockey.

But it was only five months to the day later that he threw that pesky leg over hurdler Causeway King and came within a length and a half of a fairytale victory.

Thornton is the first to admit that he has never worshipped at the altar of physical fitness with the same obsession as some in the weighing room.

But he admitted yesterday that the seriousness of his injury, caused when his mount Hell's Bay crashed through the wing of an obstacle, and the prospect of missing a season concentrated his mind in that department.

“When they told me it could be 12 months off, I cried,” he said. “But it made me realise just how much I wanted to be riding and I decided to work on six and get on with it. To come back in exactly five is just brilliant.”

But for the adverse weather, Thornton would have been back sooner, having been given the all-clear last week.

His recuperation included two bouts of surgery and sessions with the Manchester United physiotherapists.

“It was the sort of injury I had to work, to load as much as possible,” he said, “and I can't speak highly enough of everyone who helped.”

Causeway King, who blazed the trail for two miles yesterday and was caught only after the last hurdle, thoroughly tested Thornton's physique and resolve, including one heart-stopping moment at the second-flight, when he briefly jinked towards the wing. “The leg feels fine but I'm having a bit of a blow,” said the rider afterwards. “I've been riding out for a few weeks, but there's no substitute for race-riding.”

Causeway King's bunny-hop over the last handed the initiative to the 22-1 outsider Salontyre, ridden by novice rider Isabel Tompsett, a practising vet. And it seems Thornton's chauvinism, however good-natured, is as healthy as his limbs. “For a moment I thought I might come back with a winner,” he added, “and then I get done by a girl.”

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