Franny Norton back on track but career milestone not on his mind
With Uttoxeter, Ayr and Wolverhampton off, it makes sense to focus on Lingfield, and luckily it is a card worthy of attention in no small part because it marks the return to the saddle of Franny Norton and the bid for a personal milestone.
Norton has been off the track for 26 days after unseating from the Mark Johnston-trained Tarnhelm at Southwell and breaking a rib and damaging ligaments in his knee.
However, 2017 was already a record-breaking year for Norton, who rode his first winner in 1989, with the 47-year-old taking his annual prize-money total into seven figures for the first time. With 82 winners for the year, his injury came when he was just two away from breaking his highest ever tally, recorded in 2015.
Publicly at least, he is claiming the milestone is not on his mind. "I don't do any of that [setting targets]," said Norton. "I just hope to finish the year in one piece and that's always my goal. I never put a number on anything."
Norton partners Dusky Maid for James Given in the 32Red On The App Store Fillies' Handicap (1.00) and will have another three rides at Wolverhampton in the evening should the meeting survive and said: "I'm fit and well and ready to go again.
"I'm looking forward to getting back and cracking on and hopefully we can pick back up where we were finishing. We were having a good second half so hopefully we can kick on."
On the Baltic weather conditions he will be returning to he added: "We're used to it now, we've done it for 30-odd years," before adding: "I'm not going anywhere, I'll just be grafting away on the all-weather and the knee and the rib feel good.
"I actually don't mind being in the gym so I was in the university with [exercise physiologist] George Wilson and he was looking after me. He's a good guy and I'm fit and well and raring to go."
Max is back
Norton is not the only star returning to action at Lingfield. Ian Williams' Meydan regular Sir Maximilian kicks off his winter campaign in the £20,000 Betway Dash Handicap (2.10) over five furlongs.
He has the assistance of Adam Kirby, the standout riding talent to ply his trade on the all-weather through the winter, and Williams, who once again saddled a high-profile Saturday winner with Gas Line Boy winning the Grand Sefton, said: "I'm looking forward to having him back.
"He's been off a while so he's sure to improve for the run and I'm not convinced if he's better at five or six these days but being fresh and, well, five shouldn't hold too many issues for him tomorrow.
"It looks a competitive race for his comeback and this is very much his stepping stone to Dubai."
He faces eight rivals in what is a competitive-looking Class 2 handicap featuring Gracious John, Royal Birth and the David O'Meara-trained four-year-old Alsvinder, who has improved considerably for a switch to the all-weather.
"He's up in grade again but he seems to like the all-weather and we're happy with him," O'Meara said.
Aptly named runner
Paul and Clare Rooney's Don't Blame Me could not be more aptly named, given the task he faces in the 5f Betway Handicap (3.15).
The Clive Cox-trained four-year-old has won twice, both times over 6f at Kempton, yet here he takes on nine rivals – every single one of which is a course-and-distance winner.
Of those, three stand out with all three of Roundabout Magic's course wins coming over this trip, while four of Temple Road's seven wins here were over the trip and all six of Mossgo's Lingfield successes came over the minimum distance.
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