A TOP jockey has told how he turned his back on a promising career as a boxer – after being told it was a ‘filthy’ sport.
Franny Norton’s name will be up in lights at this week’s Boodles Chester May Festival.
Norton could have gone pro as a boxer until advice telling him it was a ‘filthy’ sport convinced him to stick to being a jockey – a wise career move as it turned out
No one rides the Roodee better than Norton, who will be looking to get his leg up on as many hopefuls as possible for the summer’s big races.
But it could have been a very different story for the jockey – who has winnings of more than £4million on the track in the past five years – had he followed his talent in the ring.
Norton was selected to fight for England in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
A decade earlier he received a trophy from Nigel Benn for winning a stable lads’ boxing title – an event he won eight times.
Weighing less than 5st aged 16 and admittedly ‘tiny’, he looked just the type to become a jockey.
But he never sat on a horse until that age and it was between the ropes where his passion and energy originally lay.
That was, until, two chance encounters put his life on a totally different path.
One was with a longtime friend.
The other, with former England striker turned racehorse trainer Mick Channon.
Norton, 52, told the Racing Post: “I grew up in a city and thought racing was a posh sport and they only wanted people whose dad had a boat, so I wasn’t sure they would entertain me.
“As my career progressed I was getting rides here and there, but then the boxing took off.
“It was starting to escalate and I’ll never forget Mick Channon rang me up to ask if I wanted to ride a horse for him at Sandown and I did.
“At that point I was thinking, ‘Do I want to be a boxer or a jockey?’
“I was at a crossroads and then I got asked if I wanted to be a pro fighter, which made me really lost.
“I rang a good friend of mine, John Naylor, who wanted to be a jockey but was too big and became a pro fighter instead.
“Things weren’t going so well in racing and I was thinking about giving the boxing a go until he said, ‘Franny, don’t even think about it, boxing is a filthy game’.”
It proved a shrewd move.
Although boxing has never left Norton completely.
Bizarrely, he came close to fighting Ant & Dec in a 2005 charity bout until ‘they pulled out because their management didn’t want it’.
Norton still uses a circuit of boxing drills to maintain his weight and keep fit beyond his years.
In fact, he is part of a weighing room old guard showing no signs of slowing down despite their advancing age.
Frankie Dettori, Franny’s good mate, is fighting fit at the age of 52.
His worldwide farewell tour kicked off in style just last weekend when he won the 2000 Guineas for a fourth time aboard Chaldean.
Talk about punching above your weight.