VETERAN North Yorkshire jump jockey Andrew Thornton says he would never have reached the landmark 1,000-winner milestone without his association with shock Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Cool Dawn.
The 45-year-old was speaking after the death was announced of the 1998 Cheltenham hero who was trained by Robert Alner and owned by entrepreneur Dido Harding, who became chief executive of TalkTalk.
In a thrilling finish to the blue riband race 20 years ago, the 25-1 outsider held off the challenges of Strong Promise and Dorans Pride in a race that saw favourite See More Business effectively taken out of the race when a young AP McCoy pulled up his mount Cyborgo sharply, an incident that sparked bitter recriminations between West Country trainers Paul Nicholls and Martin Pipe.
Ironically Thornton had been aboard the Nicholls-trained See More Business when the stout chaser won Kempton’s King George VI Chase the preceding Boxing Day – the unavailability of regular rider Timmy Murphy, and many others, saw him receive the call-up.
Yet it was the jockey’s association with Cool Dawn that provided his career with the impetus – and longevity – that finally enabled him to record his 1,000th winner in December 2016 before injuring his cruciate ligament as he dismounted.
Even though injury has curtailed Thornton’s riding opportunities in recent times, he still enjoys the sport. “There’s no doubt I wouldn’t have ridden 1,000 winners if it wasn’t for him,” he said. “He kickstarted my career and was the first big horse me and Robert had together.”
Cool Dawn was a prolific winner in the point-to-point and hunter chase spheres, ridden by the aforementioned Harding on many occasions, before joining Alner where he realised the potential that he had shown when second in the 1996 Cheltenham Foxhunter.
His time with Dorset-based Alner was interrupted by injury, but in one golden spell he won three times at Ascot in the 1997-98 season after Thornton took over in the saddle.
Cool Dawn was then pulled up at Sandown in his Cheltenham prep race, but that was rectified in the best possible way with victory in the Gold Cup.
Thornton said: “I remember the first time I won on him at Ascot when he was supposed to have 10st. I told Robert I could get down to 10st 2lb and he said he’d let me ride as long as I was no heavier. It was a good job I managed it.
“He was only such a big price in the Gold Cup because he’d pulled up the time before at Sandown, but we subsequently found he just didn’t like Sandown. Also that run probably came at a time when the yard were quiet.
“He was cherry-ripe on the day, his coat was gleaming and the ground was probably good to firm, which really suited him. It couldn’t be quick enough for him.
“Robert was a master with getting years out of chasers and I’m glad I was able to ride a Gold Cup winner for him. Nobody can take it away from us.”
Cool Dawn only managed four more races under rules after his big win and was pulled up in three of them, but he certainly enjoyed his retirement hunting with Harding, a Tory peer.
He was cherry-ripe on the day, his coat was gleaming and the ground was probably good to firm, which really suited him. It couldn’t be quick enough for him.Jockey Andrew Thornton on Gold Cup-winning partner Cool Dawn
Thornton added: “He was still hunting when he was 25. I haven’t come across many horses older who have still been hunting.
“If you’d seen them out hunting there was only one person in control – and it wasn’t Dido.
“There was one point-to-point when she was 30 lengths clear, he ran out at the horse boxes, lost 40 lengths and still ended up winning by 15.
“I spoke to Dido about him and she was saying how lucky she’d been. She’s only ever owned three horses in her life and she might have a Grand National runner this year in Walk In The Mill.”
Cool Dawn raced 17 times under rules, winning six times in total and earning over £210,000 in prize-money.