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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, but proprietor Paul Dean has his own tips.
Sir Ron Priestley, rated a playful contender against Logician, Sir Dragonet and also co. in flat racing’s earliest and final Classic race of the season staged Doncaster, is one of a series of horses Dean has named following friends to whom he is also awarded’his own form’ of all knighthood.
The late Mr Priestley was a first customer from the betting shop opened in the 1960s by Dean, one of the racehorse owners who was firmly on the Mark Johnston bandwagon nicely before his prolific operation at Middleham, North Yorkshire became as high profile as it is now.
And speaking of awards, 49, Sir Ron Priestley’s jockey Franny Norton, will be part of an, if not a gong that is long-service, was a standing dish in the jockeys’ room for decades.
A champion boxer who turned down the chance to go to the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur so as to concentrate on becoming a jockey, the Scouser, has needed to shake his way to the summit of racing.
A particularly successful apprentice rider, he found that the heavy because a rider, but a later teaming up with Johnston, who saddles outsider Nayef Road, has proved a sin.
But although Norton’s ridden in three Vintage races – in the 2014 St Leger and at two stagings of the 1,000 Guineas – he’s never been effective 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 explained:”We have not got to the bottom of him, and he is always dug deep to me.
“We all know what Logician and the others are attracted to the table, however we know what we’re bringing to the table and, most importantly, if there’s any chinks in their armour Sir Ron can find them since he’s tough and he’s brave.
“The three facing him in the betting, are they that bombproof? I’m very positive and I’ll be providing my horse all of the positive vibes.”
With Norton being the very senior jockey – ahead of Frankie Dettori – before most of his opponents have been born, along with having ridden his first winner in May 1989, a success at this level would be acclaimed.
While acknowledging it could be a”good story”, he insists he is philosophical about what might or might not occur.
“If Franny Norton finishes his racing career, and he didn’t ride a Group One winner, then would I lose some sleep? No I will not,” he explained.
“Should Franny Norton wins a Group One race or even a Classic, does it make it better? No it doesn’t. Will it place my career up ? No, because I will be completed in a couple of years.
“But you’re right it would be a good story – folks like a rollercoaster, and that is what I’ve needed – so, yes it would be good.”
As much as eight runners are due to lineup from the St Leger, first staged four decades before the Epsom Derby at 1776.
The field commissioned by Dettori, is led by the unbeaten Logician, a grey-coloured son of champion Frankel and trained by John Gosden.
Dettori, who is looking for his sixth St Leger success – compared to Gosden for whom success will be number five – said:”He is still learning, but he hit the line well [at the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York in August], and that will bring him on further.”
The Dettori/Gosden access has been much more like a juggernaut in major prizes throughout the summer – and more to come, especially Enable in October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris – although the Irish-based Aidan O’Brien team has been in almost equally formidable form.
Consequently, O’Brien and Gosden are effectively neck and neck at the prize-money-decided British trainers’ championship – that continues till 31 December – however although Gosden holds a #300,000-plus guide, the #700,000 on offer at Doncaster, together with rewards down to sixth place, could easily make all of the difference.
Sir Dragonet, that shot to prominence if operating away with all the Chester Vase in May before finishing down the field from the Epsom Derby, is greatest fancied of a three-strong O’Brien struggle since the County Tipperary coach goes to get a third win in just three years, seven complete.
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