‘Choc’ Thornton has that Cheltenham dream again
It was great to see ‘Choc’ Thornton back on the Barbury gallops this week, not on horseback but now in his role as racing manager to Paul Dunkley, the pair having hopes of Cheltenham Festival glory with Blacko in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (formerly the Fred Winter) on Wednesday week.
Leading rider at the meeting back in 2007, when his four winners included the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Voy Por Ustedes), Arkle Trophy (My Way de Solzen) and Triumph Hurdle (Katchit), Choc seemed to grow an inch taller every time he walked into Prestbury Park.
A decade earlier Choc, then a fresh-faced 18-year-old, made his first mark on the most famous jumps festival in the world, booting home a double on the opening day, courtesy of King Lucifer (Kim Muir) and Pharanear (Pertemps Final), but he stresses that you take nothing for granted at Cheltenham, reminding us that it was another seven years before he rode another winner at the meeting, his first for Alan on Fork Lightning in what is now known as the Ultima Chase.
All in all, Choc rode 15 winners at the Festival and is adamant that it would have been 16 had Bensalem not tipped up two out when cruising in the same race in 2010.
But he would like nothing more than to be able to walk into that hallowed winner’s enclosure alongside Dunkley with Blacko, having three times rattled the crossbar at the meeting for Paul on that great old servant Medermit, who finished in the frame in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and both the Arkle and Ryanair Trophy.
Like Medermit, Blacko is a French recruit, and he is 2-2 since joining Alan, having won first time out at Taunton and followed up at Warwick.
Choc says Blacko “will be a better horse next year and will jump a fence one day”, but the youngster looked in fine fettle as he came up the all-weather this week, and the likely fast pace at Cheltenham will play to his strengths.
Edwardstone, who will also make a smashing novice chaser when he switches codes, is another who would benefit from a strong gallop, which he looks sure to be granted in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the race that kick-starts the meeting. He, too, glided up the hill at exercise and looks right on song for Tuesday week.
Meanwhile, we have four runners at our local Newbury meeting on Friday. Forgetthesmalltalk made a pleasing first appearance after 19 months off when finishing second at Kempton in November and, with amateur Max Martin Browne again board – “he gave the horse a good sensible ride last time”, said Alan – he ought to be sharper for that comeback.
We also run three in the bumper, the improving Didonato, who got going late on at Ludlow and should be suited by this long straight, The Kicking Queen, who has also been pleasing Alan at home, and Colours Of My Life, another who has done some good work in the mornings but will come on for this first run.