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Thornton joy at fast return

Robert Thornton was one of the major benefactors from the long-awaited return of jumps racing at Exeter yesterday.

Eight spine-numbing days, in which racing was firmly locked in the freezer, had passed since a National Hunt race was last sighted on the racing calendar.

But having staged three inspections during the morning, Exeter clerk of the course Barry Johnson happily issued a triumphant thumbs-up.

While Thornton did not find the winners' enclosure with his sole ride, the star rider was still the happiest man on the racecourse as he completed his miraculous return to the saddle.

Thornton was in July left in a heap on the Newton Abbot turf after a horrific fall from Hell's Bay, which left doctors predicting a year on the sidelines for the leading jockey.

But Thornton has whittled down that absence to exactly five months and he came close to making the perfect comeback on Causeway King in the Exeter Hurdle.


Trained by his boss, Alan King, the four-year-old made most of the running, only to be caught late on by rank outsider Salontyre (22/1), ridden by Isabel Tompsett.

"I'm delighted racing is on and it's great to be back," said Thornton.

"I'm still having a little blow and there's no substitute to riding, but after two or three more rides I'll be spot-on.

"When I was told it would be 12 months originally, I cried, so to get back in five to the day is brilliant."

Last season's Fred Winter scorer Sanctuaire was sent off the hot favourite but he could only finish third, having pulled for his head for much of the contest.

Just two runners went to post for the Harry Dutfield Memorial Novices' Chase, but that did not stop the pair fighting out a thrilling finish.

Hidden Keel and Paddy Brennan briefly hit the front on the run to the line, but Tarablaze fought back and had a length and three-quarters in hand passing the post under Tom O'Brien.

"He was idling in front, and was never travelling that well -- he also jumped a little bit left," Tarablaze trainer Philip Hobbs said. "Probably with a lead it wouldn't have been a problem."


At Dundalk, Ben Curtis restored parity with Gary Carroll in the Irish apprentice jockeys' championship.

Victories on Home Secretary and Valbonne yesterday ensured Curtis moved on to 39 winners for the season -- the same total as his rival.

Joseph O'Brien, currently on 35 winners, has ground to make up after failing to trouble the judge.

Carroll had seen a chink of daylight when Sampers claimed the Group Discounts At Dundalk Stadium Race.

The Mick Halford-trained filly (2/1 favourite) held off the close attentions of Calm Bay to take the six-furlong affair by a length and a quarter.

Halford said: "That's a help to Gary. He works very hard and is a hell of a good rider. It'd be nice if he could go on and win it. It's a hard thing for a 3lb claimer to do, riding all year with just the 3lb, especially against a good crop."

But Curtis was not to be denied, and fought back 30 minutes later when Valbonne (16/1) showed the way home in division one of the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies' Maiden. He was later to double up when Home Secretary (7/2 joint-favourite) hit the target in the concluding www.dundalkstadium.com Handicap.