Like a fine wine or matured whiskey Franny Norton is showing he’s getting better with age.
And now after 32 years in the saddle, the Scouse jockey is eyeing a first Classic success as he makes a belated debut in the Cazoo Oaks aboard Mark Johnston’s Dubai Fountain.
The 50-year-old rider appears at the top of his game at present and is hoping, like his contemporaries Frankie Dettori and Kevin Manning in last month’s Guineas at Newmarket, he can star on the biggest stage at Epsom on Friday.
Liverpool FC fan Norton, from Belle Vale, said: “I don’t know what’s happened with me. I don’t know whether I am a bottle of wine or a Scotch. But I do feel a lot better than ever. Things are going well and hopefully it can continue.”
Norton partnered Dubai Fountain for a second time in her short career when landing a fine success in one of the key Oaks Trials, the Weatherbys ePassport Cheshire Oaks, at his beloved Chester last month, beating the reopposing Zeyaadah.
The daughter of Teofilio is around a 12-1 chance to follow up at Epsom behind the Aidan O’Brien-trained favourite Santa Barbara and stable-mate and Musidora Stakes winner Snowfall.
And while Norton knows it will a challenge, he believes Dubai Fountain has all the right attributes to go close to giving him a first Classic victory.
He said: “She is one of the highest rated, if not the highest-rated in the race. It is going to be a tough race as we all well know but I am looking forward to it.
“I rode her first time and she got beat a short head. She was very raw and green that day and she obviously improved throughout the year, William (Buick) got on her. And then I rode her around Chester in a messy race and she prevailed that day.
“You only have to look at Aidan O’Brien over the years and he loves to send them (his Epsom contenders) to Chester and they go on to the Oaks or the Derby.
“A horse I rode around there (Storm The Stars, second in the Chester Vase in 2015) for William Haggas went on to be third in the Derby. It gives them a massive experience going around there.
“She is not overly big but what she is is well-balanced and organised and I should imagine the track won’t be a problem.”
And on his rivals, he added: “You have to respect them. You have to respect the horse that was second to us, Zeyaadah, at Chester. And it was a massive run by Santa Barbara when she was fourth (in the 1,000 Guineas) and the step up in trip would suit her. We know we are up against it, but we have the right horse to go to war with.”
Norton has only had four rides in the five British Classics, with Sir Ron Priestley’s second place in the 2019 St Leger at Doncaster the nearest he has come to victory. But he is just relishing competing at the top level.
He said: “It is my first ride in the Oaks. These are the days you go for. They are big moments and you have got to be able to take them when they come along as they don’t come along that often as I know. 32 years riding and this is the first ride in it. But it is just another race for me and I don’t put any extra pressure on because it is the Oaks. It is another race.”
The Cazoo Oaks is part of this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series along with the other Epsom Group Ones this week, the Coral Coronation Cup and the Cazoo Derby.
Franny Norton’s previous British Classic rides: 2,000 Guineas: None. 1,000 Guineas: 2013 Winning Express 4th, 2000 Claranet 11th. Oaks: None. Derby: None. St Leger: 2019 Sir Ron Priestley 2nd, 2014 It’s Somewhat 10th.
Ante-post favourite Santa Barbara headed the 14 fillies declared at the final stage for the Oaks.
The Camelot filly won on her racecourse debut at the Curragh in September and finished fourth when favourite for last month’s QIPCO 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Aidan O’Brien’s three-year-old is the 5-2 favourite with William Hill, Paddy Power, BetVictor and Betfair.
The Balydoyle trainer has five of the 14 entries with Musidora Stakes winner Snowfall a 9-2 chance with William Hill, Betfred, bet365, Boylesports and Betway.
Divinely – 11-1 with bet365, Willow and La Joconde are O’Brien’s other contenders.
Archie Watson’s Sherbet Lemon, Roger Varian’s Save A Forest and Hugo Palmer’s Ocean Road were first, second and third in the Oaks Trial at Lingfield and will take each other on again.
Varian also had Musidora Stakes third Teona and Cheshire Oaks runner-up Zeyaadah declared.
Teona is 6-1 with BetVictor, Betfred, bet365, Boylesports and Betway, with Zeyaadah the same price with William Hill.
Mark Johnston’s Cheshire Oaks winner Dubai Fountain; the Jane Chapple-Hyam-trained 1,000 Guineas runner-up Saffron Beach; the Martyn Meade-trained Technique; and the supplemented Mystery Angel, trained by George Boughey, complete the Oaks line-up.