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By Cornelius Lysaght
BBC horse racing correspondent
St Leger week started with some hoo-haa over the honours list of Theresa May, however big-race proprietor Paul Dean has his own ideas on knighthoods.
Sir Ron Priestley, rated a playful competition against Logician, Sir Dragonet along with co. in apartment racing’s earliest and final traditional race of this season staged at Doncaster, is just one of a string of horses Dean has appointed following friends to whom he is also awarded’his own kind’ of all 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 about the Mark Johnston bandwagon nicely before his successful operation at Middleham, North Yorkshire became high profile as it is today.
And talking 49, Sir Ron Priestley’s jockey Franny Norton, will perhaps soon be deserving of an equine name-check, if not a gong that is long-service, was a standing dish at the jockeys’ room for decades.
A champion amateur boxer who turned down the chance to go to the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur so as to focus on becoming a jockey, the Scouser, has needed to punch his way into the summit of racing.
A successful apprentice rider, a later teaming up with Johnston, who saddles outsider Nayef Road, although he initially found the moving hefty as a fully-fledged rider, has proved a sin.
But although Norton’s ridden in the 2014 St Leger and at 2 stagings of the 1,000 Guineas – in 3 Vintage races – he’s never been successful at the sport’s highest Group One level.
Maybe twice a winner at Goodwood in August, Sir Ron Priestley, can fill that CV void .
Norton said:”We haven’t got to the bottom of himand he’s always dug deep for me.
“We all know what Logician and others are attracted to the table, however we know what we’re bringing to the table also, above all, if there is any chinks in their armour Sir Ron can locate them because he’s tough and he’s brave.
“The three in front of him in the betting, are they that bombproof? I am quite positive and I will be providing my horse all of the positive vibes.”
Together with Norton being the flat jockey – ahead of Frankie Dettori – before many of his opponents had been born along with having ridden his first winner May 1989, a success at this level could be widely acclaimed.
While acknowledging it might be a”great story”, he insists he is philosophical about what might or might not occur.
“If Franny Norton finishes his racing career, and he did not ride a Group One winner, will I lose some sleep? No I won’t,” he said.
“In case Franny Norton wins a Group One race or even a Classic, does it make it any better? No it does not. Will it put my livelihood up ? No, since I will be finished in a couple of years.
“But you are right it would be a good story – people love a rollercoaster, and that is what I’ve had – so, yes it would be fantastic.”
As much as eight runners are due to lineup from the St Leger, first staged in 1776 ahead of the Epsom Derby.
The field commissioned by Dettori, is led by the unbeaten Logician, a grey-coloured son of champion racehorse-turned-stallion Frankel and trained by John Gosden.
Dettori, who’s looking for his sixth St Leger success – in contrast to Gosden for whom success would be number five – said:”He’s still learning, but he struck the line well [in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York in August], and that is going to bring him on further.”
The Dettori/Gosden accessibility has been more like a juggernaut in major prizes throughout the summer – with more to come, especially 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 potent type.
As a result, O’Brien and Gosden are effectively neck and throat in the prize-money-decided British trainers’ championship – which proceeds till 31 December – but although Gosden retains a #300,000-plus guide, the 700,000 on offer at Doncaster, with rewards down to sixth place, could easily make all the difference.
Sir Dragonet, that shot to prominence when operating away with all the Chester Vase at May before completing down the field from the Epsom Derby, is greatest fancied of a three-strong O’Brien obstacle as the County Tipperary coach goes for a third win in three decades, seven full.
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