RACING: A bleak route high on Middleham Moor but Mark Johnston's team keep on running

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The Independent Online
There are times when a trainer must feel that winning races is the easy part of the job. It takes more than a few inches of snow to stop Mark Johnston's operation, however, and throughout the current cold spell his horses have exercised on the Middleham gallops each morning as usual, writes Greg Wood.

"It's a bit more dodgy in the snow," Johnston said yesterday, "they slip and slide a bit more and we had two get loose this morning. But it would be much worse if we had to keep them inside for two weeks." Only Johnston's all-weather team are in fast work, but with the start of the Flat season on turf barely six weeks away, many of the proven and potentially top- class animals are starting to canter.

Double Trigger, the Gold Cup winner at Ascot last year, must wonder what to make of it all. His last outing was in November's Melbourne Cup, during the warm Australian winter, but his road back to the Royal meeting, via the Sagaro Stakes in May, begins in an altogether different climate. "He's just ticking over, all the proper horses are," Johnston said.

Another of the "proper" horses is Bijou D'Inde, who is on target to emulate the breakthrough success of the stable's Mister Baileys in the 1994 2,000 Guineas. The Johnston string is now the strongest assembled in the North for many years, and it will be ready for the off whatever the weather. Photograph: Simon Wilkinson