Five things we learnt on day two of the Dante meeting at York

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Thu 18 May 2017

Andy Stephens applauds Franny Norton, wonders if John Gosden missed a trick and reckons he might have seen the Epsom Dash winner

By Andy Stephens

Norton rewarded for perseverance:

Franny Norton has had more than 13,000 rides during his 29-year career and spent goodness knows how many miles sitting in traffic jams on the motorway.

Up until Thursday, the 46-year-old’s reward had never been nothing above a Group Three race and so nobody can begrudge him perhaps his finest moment in the saddle as he drove Permian to victory in the Group Two Betfred Dante Stakes.

Norton did not arrive on the crest of a wave - he had ridden no winners in the previous fortnight from 38 rides and blamed himself for the horse’s previous defeat at the hands of Cracksman.

“I probably went five strides too early at Epsom and today I tried to hold my nerve a bit more,” the veteran of the weighing room said. “He ran to the line strong and I couldn’t pull him up at the end. I was on a fit horse with a lot of ability.”

Godolphin CEO John Ferguson confirmed afterwards that Permian, trained by Mark Johnston and owned by a son of Sheikh Mohammed, would be supplemented for the Derby. In such a muddling year, he surely deserves a shot at the race.

Norton was asked if he would fancy riding him in the £1.5 million showpiece. “It’s a nice idea . . . I’ve ridden in a Donkey Derby!”

Ladbrokes and Stan James offer 16-1.

Gosden may have missed a trick:

John Gosden said it was a tough decision to pull Cracksman out of the Dante on the morning of the race.

The masterful trainer was worried about the Frankel colt having a hard race in soft ground just 16 days before the Epsom showpiece.

One wonders, though, if he pulled the plug a bit early and missed a trick.

Jockeys reported that the ground was nowhere near as bad as the previous day and it had been changed back to good to soft before the Dante. The winning time of the race was just outside standard, suggesting it could not have been that attritional.

In the following race, a mile handicap, the winner dipped under standard.

Gosden has described Cracksman as a slow learner and he will be frustrated that the chance of giving him more experience has slipped by.

He could give him another spin at Epsom on Tuesday at the Breakfast With The Stars function but it will not be quite the same.

Betfred, who sponsored the Dante, make Cracksman, Churchill and Cliffs Of Moher 5-1 co-favourites for the Derby. It is that kind of year.

Morrison faces BHA charges:

Less than an hour after the Dante had been run, the BHA confirmed it had issued charges against Hughie Morrison after a filly trained by him was found to have nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, in her system following a modest race on the all-weather in January in which she finished last.

The sport’s governing body have a zero tolerance policy with regard to such drugs being administered and, if found guilty, the trainer could be banished for up to ten years.

From a distance, there are elements to the case that do not add up and Morrison has denied all wrongdoing. He has already gone to great lengths to try to prove his innocence and has offered a £10,000 reward for information that will help him clear his name.

Unusually, the BHA also stated: “Anyone with information in relation to this matter should contact the BHA by calling RaceStraight, our confidential helpline, on 0800 085 2580 or by visiting  All information will be treated in the strictest confidence and the identity of any caller will remain anonymous.”

Morrison remains able to go about his business and on Friday will saddle Marmelo in the Yorkshire Cup.

Murphy riding his luck:

Oisin Murphy came in for plenty of criticism at Chepstow on Tuesday night when almost throwing away victory on the Andrew Balding-trained Sir Pass I Am.

About ten lengths clear with 75 yards to run, Murphy eased up and the winning margin ended up being a fast-diminishing neck from two rivals who dead-heated for second.

He had no such luxury on Blond Me in the Middleton Stakes, getting up late to win at the main expense of favourite The Black Princess after trading at 79-1 in running on Betfair.

Murphy dropped his reins late on but it ended up making little difference and he went on to complete a double via Here Comes When.

Given his run of form, he must be looking forward to partnering dual Group One winner Simple Verse in the Yorkshire Cup on Friday. His last win on her came at Doncaster in September after he had got into all sorts of bother on her.

He is a class jockey and, it seems, a lucky one.

Duke cuts a dash:

Many of us have spent the last three weeks or so studying all the Derby trials and trying to work out what to back in the biggest race of the season.

Perhaps a better bet would be to give up on that mission and instead simply back Duke Of Firenze for the Dash on the supporting card.

The David Griffiths-trained eight-year-old looked on great terms with himself when pouncing from off the pace to win the competitive 5f handicap that opened the card at York on Thursday.

Inevitably, he will be higher in the weights on the Downs 16 days from now but this victory was achieved on ground softer than he cares for and afterwards David Allan, his jockey, said it would be well worth having a crack at the Group One Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes back at York in August.

Duke Of Firenze won the Dash in 2013, when trained by Sir Michael Stoute, and was third last year when not enjoying the rub of the green. Coral make him a best-priced 11-1 for this year’s renewal and it will be a surprise if he is that price on the day.

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