Given that their first baby is due three days before Christmas, Robert Thornton's wife could be pardoned for taking a suspicious view of his determination to get out of the house. To anyone else, however, the very possibility that he could already be back at work is a matter for undiluted celebration. Told that he might be out for 12 months after a fall at Newton Abbot in July, Thornton is so far ahead of schedule he could even treat a schooling spill yesterday as another significant breakthrough.
"It was just a young horse who was a little bit green," he said. "He jammed on the brakes going to the hurdle, and I went out the front door. Before I knew it, I was on the floor. And while it probably sounds a bit daft, I was glad – glad to get it out of the way, that first fall."
Monday is his next crossroads, when he hopes that his surgeon, Jonathan Webb, will authorise a return to the racecourse before Christmas. Having thought the injury relatively innocuous, Thornton remembers how shocked he was at the initial prognosis. It turned out that he had ruptured three of the four ligaments in his right knee.
"When they told me I was looking at a year out, I cried," he said. "I'm not ashamed to admit that. But I was never bitter. I figured I had been very lucky with injuries. I'd never previously been out more than three weeks, the odd collarbone. I asked Jonathan if I could aim for six months, and he said it would be hard, but that the people who had surprised him in the past were jockeys, and ballet dancers. I do want it right, before coming back. But it does feel right. It can still stiffen up a bit, but both knees now bend the same."
Those assisting Thornton's recovery are certainly well versed in the demands of elite sport. Webb himself is a former rugby international, while the fact that he suffered the injury riding for Paul Nicholls, whose patrons include Sir Alex Ferguson, opened the door to a day of physiotherapy in Manchester United's training complex at Carrington. Thornton found himself working out between Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves, who both knew all about long-term knee injuries. "Robert Swires, the head physio there, was fantastic," Thornton said. "They know how much it can take, and taught me not to be scared of pushing it."
Thornton also praises Wayne Hutchinson, his understudy at Alan King's yard. "He's been doing a great job and I'm so pleased for him," he said. "Nobody likes to miss winners but I want them to be running well, because it gives me more incentive to get back."
Thornton was here to watch King win with his only runner, while a treble for Nicky Henderson confirmed another National Hunt powerhouse to be approaching top gear for the Hennessy meeting at Newbury later this week.
* Peter Monteith, the Midlothian trainer, was found dead at home on Sunday. He was 61. Police said there were no suspicious circumstances. His finest hour was at the 1994 Cheltenham Festival, winning the County Hurdle with Dizzy.
Chris McGrath's Nap
First Swallow (12.40 Southwell)
Thrived on this surface last winter, and coped creditably with a sharper test round Wolverhampton last time after shaping well on turf in the autumn.
Slew Charm (3.20 Lingfield)
Lightly raced over jumps but made a promising return at Sandown, making a big move before flattening out, and sure to benefit from this return to 2m.
One to watch
Glens Boy (Henrietta Knight) is bred to make a staying chaser and has already won point-to-points, so a novice handicap over fences might beckon after qualifying for a rating in his third novice hurdle at Wincanton last week.
Where the money's going
Binocular, the champion hurdler, is 5-6 with Totesport for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday, with Peddlers Cross 11-4 and Starluck 7-2.