Horse racing: Thornton thwarted in bid for a perfect early 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 Britain was firmly locked in the freezer, had passed since a National Hunt race was last sighted.

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

While Thornton did not find the winner's 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 out.

But Thornton has whittled down that absence down to exactly five months and 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."

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.

The absence of likely hot favourite Royal Charm meant 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 (2-1) and Paddy Brennan briefly hit the front on the run to the line, but 4-11 favourite Tarablaze fought back and had a length and three-quarters in hand passing the post.

Sponsors Coral chopped C'monthehammers to 40-1 for the Welsh National after Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge showed reservoirs of stamina in the gruelling Axminster Carpets Devon Marathon Handicap Chase.

Meanwhile, Ralph Beckett and Cast Of Stars left each other on the best possible terms with victory at Kempton on Saturday.

For the gelding, a hurdling career in Wales awaits, while Classic-winning trainer Beckett is about to relocate from Whitsbury to stables in Andover.

The 6-4 favourite has had a frustrating time of things on the level but was helped by a typically cool George Baker to lift the Best Odds Guaranteed At Maiden Stakes in tidy style.

"He is off to Evan Williams now, as the owner David Barrie has hurdlers with him," said Beckett. "That could well be our last runner from Whitsbury as we start to move on Monday."

Richie Myler.

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