Trigger a target for acclaim

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The Independent Online
When an odds-on favourite leads his field into the final furlong at a Sandown Bank Holiday meeting, he is generally greeted by the bellows and roars of several thousand well-oiled Londoners. Not so Double Trigger, however. As last year's Ascot Gold Cup winner strode clear of his field in the Henry II Stakes yesterday, he received a rare accolade, as racegoers from the Silver Ring to the Members' Enclosure warmly applauded him home.

The last horse to be so honoured at the Esher track was probably Desert Orchid, and Double Trigger's majestic performance - he beat Assessor by seven lengths - confirmed him as not only one of the most popular horses in training, but also among the finest stayers of recent decades.

Breeders now cherish speed far above stamina and Double Trigger's competition is not what it might have been 20 years ago, but he can do no more than dominate his contemporaries and on this evidence he will continue to do so this summer.

His most serious opponent as he attempts to win his second stayers' Triple Crown - Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup - may well be Double Eclipse, his full-brother, but Mark Johnston, who trains both, left few doubts about which of them will carry the greatest stable confidence at Ascot next month.

"Jason [Weaver] can't do anything but stick with Trigger," Johnston said, when asked whether his rider might face a difficult choice before the Royal meeting. "He's a proven winner and he has to go to Ascot with the stable jockey on him. Michael Roberts is already booked for Double Eclipse."

If all goes to plan, the Gold Cup will be run as a repeat of yesterday's typical front-running success. "I think every time Double Trigger races, the commentator says, 'they're queueing up behind'," Johnston said, "and every time the commentator is caught out. Double Trigger has a breather six out and they always queue up, but when they turned for home I saw the sticks come out on the others and I thought, it's over, because ours will battle longer than anybody's."

Royal Ascot will also be the next destination for Mind Games, who won the Group Two Temple Stakes for the second year running. It is also to be hoped that Jack Berry, his trainer, will maintain his choice of attire yesterday when he saddles his colt for the King's Stand Stakes. Not just the famous red shirt, but a Mr Blobby tie too, which should test Ascot's starchy sartorial regulations to breaking point.

Mind Games was a comfortable winner yesterday, and will have a relatively light campaign this year as Berry pursues his great ambition of a Group One success. The Nunthorpe Stakes at York in August is the principal target, and Mind Games will run in the July Cup at Newmarket only if Berry feels it will fit in with this overall plan. "I want to give him a good crack at a Group One before he's worn out," Berry said. "He's done it well today, and he'll be a better horse when he can bounce off the ground."

Mind Games may well be an improved performer this year, but it is worth remembering that he had an ideal draw yesterday, nine of 10. When the stalls are on the far side of Sandown's straight five-furlong course, and when there is some give in the ground in particular, high numbers have an enormous advantage.

It seems surprising, to say the least, that the clerk of the course chose to position the stalls yesterday in such a way as to deny any real chance to perhaps half the field for a pounds 50,000 Group Two event. Woodborough, who finished third from stall four, may do much better if and when he meets Mind Games on a more equal footing.