St Leger: Franny Norton aims for Doncaster glory aged 49
|William Hill St Leger|
|Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live at 15:35 BST on Saturday, 14 September|
St Leger week started with a hoo-haa over Theresa May's honours list, but big-race owner Paul Dean has his own ideas on knighthoods.
Sir Ron Priestley, rated a lively contender against Logician, Sir Dragonet and co. in flat racing's oldest and final Classic race of the season staged at Doncaster, is among a string of horses Dean has named after friends to whom he's also granted 'his own kind' of knighthood.
The late Mr Priestley was an early customer in the betting shop opened in the 1960s by Dean, one of the racehorse owners who was firmly on the Mark Johnston bandwagon well before his prolific operation at Middleham, North Yorkshire became as high profile as it is today.
And talking of awards, Sir Ron Priestley's jockey Franny Norton, 49, will perhaps soon be deserving of an equine name-check, if not a long-service gong, having been a standing dish in the jockeys' changing room for decades.
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The Scouser, a champion amateur boxer who turned down the chance to go to the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in order to concentrate on becoming a jockey, has had to punch his way to racing's summit.
A notably successful apprentice rider, he initially found the going heavy as a fully-fledged rider, but a subsequent teaming up with Johnston, who also saddles outsider Nayef Road, has proved a revelation.
However, though Norton's ridden in three Classic races - in two stagings of the 1,000 Guineas and in the 2014 St Leger - he's never been successful at the sport's highest Group One level.
Maybe Sir Ron Priestley, twice a winner at Goodwood in August, can fill that CV void in the St Leger on Saturday.
Norton said: "We haven't got to the bottom of him, and he's always dug deep for me.
"We know what Logician and the others are bringing to the table, but we also know what we're bringing to the table and, most importantly, if there's any chinks in their armour Sir Ron will find them because he's tough and he's brave.
"The three in front of him in the betting, are they really that bombproof? I'm very positive and I'll be giving my horse all the positive vibes."
With Norton being the most senior flat jockey - just ahead of Frankie Dettori - and having ridden his first winner in May 1989 before many of his rivals were born, a success at this level would be widely acclaimed.
While admitting it would be a "great story", he insists he's philosophical about what may or may not happen.
"If Franny Norton ends his racing career, and he didn't ride a Group One winner, will I lose any sleep? No I won't," he said.
"If Franny Norton wins a Group One race or a Classic, does it make it any better? No it doesn't. Will it put my career up further? No, because I'll be finished in a few years anyway.
"But you're right it would be a good story - people love a rollercoaster, and that's what I've had - so, yes it would be great."
Up to eight runners are due to line up in the St Leger, first staged four years before the Epsom Derby in 1776.
The field is headed by the unbeaten Logician, a grey-coloured son of champion racehorse-turned-stallion Frankel, ridden by Dettori and trained by John Gosden.
Dettori, who's looking for his sixth St Leger success - compared to Gosden for whom success would be number five - said: "He's still learning, but he hit the line well [in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York in August], and that will bring him on further."
The Dettori/Gosden access has been more like a juggernaut in major prizes during the summer - with more to come, notably Enable in October's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris - but the Irish-based Aidan O'Brien team has been in almost equally formidable form.
As a result, O'Brien and Gosden are effectively neck and neck in the prize-money-decided British trainers' championship - which continues until 31 December - but although Gosden holds a £300,000-plus lead, the £700,000 on offer at Doncaster, with rewards down to sixth place, could easily make all the difference.
Sir Dragonet, which shot to prominence when running away with the Chester Vase in May before finishing down the field in the Epsom Derby, is best fancied of a three-strong O'Brien challenge as the County Tipperary trainer goes for a third win in three years, seven overall.