Graham Edward Thorner, known in some quarters as ‘Whanger’ because of his uncompromising riding style, is probably best remembered as the jockey of the well-weighted, and well-backed, Well To Do, winner of the Grand National in 1972. What is perhaps less well-remembered, though, is that, at the time of his Grand National victory – the first of three for his boss, Captain Timothy Arthur “Tim” Forster – Thorner was, in fact, the reigning Champion Jockey.
Born in 1949, Thorner showed a keen interest in horse racing and joined Forster at Old Manor House Stables, in Letcombe Bassett, near Wantage, Oxfordshire straight from school, at the age of 15, in 1964. He rode his first winner, Longway, at Newton Abbott in 1966 and, having turned professional the following season, became Champion Jockey for the one and only time in 1970/71, with 74 winners. Thorner enjoyed a successful association with Forster until his retirement in 1979, by which time he had ridden 650 winners in total. Nevertheless, the relationship between trainer and jockey lacked intimacy, although Forster did later concede, “It was perfectly obvious from the beginning that he [Thorner] was going to be a fine rider.”
Thorner recorded some notable successes, at the Cheltenham Festival and elsewhere, and was probably a little unlucky not to have ridden at least one Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. His major winners for Forster included Mocharabuice in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup in 1972, Denys Adventure in the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 1973, Royal Marshall II in the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1974 and Casbah in the Grand Annual Chase in 1979. Thorner won the Arkle Challenge Trophy again in 1978 on Alverton, trained by Peter Easterby – who would, of course, win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1979 – and, with the initial running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup postponed until April because of snow, also rode the eventual winner, Midnight Court, in his preparatory race at Chepstow. Midnight Court won but, had he jumped well, Thorner would have kept the ride in the Gold Cup.