Andrew Thornton enjoyed the perfect send-off to his riding career with a winner at Uttoxeter.
The 45-year-old announced on Monday he would hang up his riding boots following four rides at the Midlands track, with long-time supporter Seamus Mullins supplying three mounts while Caroline Bailey provided the fourth.
Out of luck on his first ride, Thornton made no mistake on the Mullins-trained Amirr in the Abacus Decorators “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle, travelling well throughout and looking the likely winner with three to jump.
The partnership made no mistake from there, with the even-money favourite coming home with 10 lengths in hand of Blue N Yellow.
Thornton – who can count the Gold Cup, Welsh National, King George VI Chase and Hennessy Gold Cup among over 1,000 winning rides – was given a rapturous welcome on his return to the winner’s enclosure and sprayed with champagne by his fellow jockeys.
He said: “It couldn’t have worked out any better. It’s a special day.
“The lads are all here, Dave Roberts (agent) is here and my parents are here, my little boy Harry and Yvonne (wife).
“To be honest I didn’t have a look round as I thought Jerry McGrath (Lyndsays Lad) could be on my tail not moving and if I looked round that could cost me the race.
“I just put my head down and waited until we crossed the winning line, as it is not over until you cross that winning post.”
Thornton’s last ever ride was so nearly a fairytale one, with Manhattan Spring going down narrowly to Lively Article.
He said: “Who will remember that I got beat on the last one in 20 years’ time, probably nobody! I’ve had a winner for the day and that has put the icing on the cake. It has been hard work riding four on the bounce.
“It’s been good, though, as it has kept the mind concentrated. It was just business and about getting the job done.
“I was running on empty coming to the last on Manhattan Spring and I could just feel something on my outside and there was nothing left at the last. I didn’t feel too bad crossing the line but I thought ‘Tommy (O’Brien)’ you have gone and done me’, another of Dave Roberts’ jockeys.
“It’s not sunk in yet, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of today. I’m lucky I’ve gone until 45, how many can say that? It has just been enjoyable and you can’t turn the clock back.
“After I rode the first one I was thinking ‘I’m pleased I’m giving up, as that was hard work’. It was great fun and good to see everybody here and get out in one piece.”
Reflecting on his career, he said: “I wanted to go out on my own terms. I wanted to make the most of it and enjoy it.
“There was talk (of retirement) probably just before the 1,000th winner, but as I said how can I get to 1,000, pull the plug on what will be one of the happiest days of my life and turn it into one of the worst?
“What happened in the winner’s enclosure that day (injured his knee on dismounting) gave me nine months respite. I had an injury and I was going to make sure I came back better, fitter and stronger than I have done in the past – that was the primary goal.
“There was a little bit of business that wasn’t quite finished and I wanted to make sure I ticked all the boxes.
“Me and Timmy Murphy made a pact – he said he would see me out, but he didn’t realise how stubborn I am. I rang him up to tell him I was only waiting for him to retire.
“The banter and the leg-pull is what I will miss most. There is no other place like that weighing room.”
Yvonne Thornton pointed to what have been an emotional few days.
She said: “He has kept riding because he loved it, but I said there could be that one last time you have an injury and you are forced to retire.
“It is like a good party – I just wanted him to come out on his terms and injury free.
“I’ve had a permanent lump in my throat since Thursday, but it is more nostalgia as I’m so proud of him.
“The messages of support and congratulations have been so heartwarming. It has been absolutely overwhelming and that’s what I find so emotional. I knew he was quite highly thought of, but it has just taken me back.”
His father, David, said: “I’ve 30 albums of his cuttings. If you said to me what he won on the November 8, 1996 I could tell you what he won. I’m relieved, but it is a sad day.
“He has had a lot of lovely horses to ride. Kingscliff was the most memorable race at Ascot and dide him an awful lot of good and another that did him an awful lot of good was when he nearly come off Cool Dawn at Ascot. How he hung on I don’t know.
“He has lived on fresh air, scenery and love.”