Trigger cocked for reprisal

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Punters like Double Trigger, and they like his trainer, too. Mark Johnston is in the very simple business of saddling winners, sackloads of them, and backers who have followed his Middleham yard in recent seasons are among the few who may actually look forward to their monthly bank statement.

Nor is it simply Johnston's prolific success which appeals, but also the fact that, as befits a resident of North Yorkshire, he is not given to talking in ifs and buts. Between them, he and Double Trigger, winner of the stayers' Triple Crown last season, make a formidable team, so the trainer's comments prior to his horse's seasonal debut at Ascot this afternoon will be taken to heart by any backer with an ounce of sense.

Despite a series of victories last year which commenced in today's race, the Sagaro Stakes, the international handicappers saw fit to place Double Trigger behind Strategic Choice in their end-of-term report. This was little short of a travesty in many eyes, not least Johnston's, and Double Trigger's 1996 campaign will be aimed at promoting him to the top of the pile.

The Ascot Gold Cup winner gives at least 4lb to several useful rivals, including Sanmartino, winner of the Ebor as a three-year-old last season and apparently improving all the time. None the less, his trainer gave few signs of nerves yesterday.

"Double Trigger will be under a lot of pressure tomorrow in a situation where nothing but a win will do," Johnston said, "but even with his penalty and allowing for the fact that the handicappers under-rate him, he still comes out 7lb clear of his nearest rival." The defeats in the Prix du Cadran and Melbourne Cup which took some of the shine of his 1995 season now seem to have been fogotten. "He is absolutely fine now and if anything he has shown in his work that he is better than ever."

The familiar figure of Jason Weaver will partner Double Trigger today, but Weaver's commitment to Johnston will force him to abandon his partnership with another popular runner, the sprinter Hever Golf Rose, when she reappears at Newmarket on Saturday. Weaver must ride Johnston's Double Quick in the Palace House Stakes, but he will need to live up to his name to cope with Hever Golf Rose, who won eight races last term including the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp.

The ride now passes to Paul Eddery, who won on Hever Golf Rose in Germany last year. "He knows the horse well and he'll do for me," Joe Naughton, her trainer, said yesterday. "He is a very good jockey who doesn't get the breaks he deserves. Hever Golf Rose is very well though obviously she will improve for the run and it will not be a walk in the park on Saturday. I have not had a winner on the turf yet, but my horses normally find their form from May onwards."

The Palace House should provide a worthy support act to Saturday's main event at Newmarket, the 2,000 Guineas. Watering, which draws on the track's own bore-hole and reservoir, continued yesterday, and the going remains good, while away from the course punters were interested in Mark Of Esteem, Godolphin's contender for the first Classic. Ladbrokes, who opened up at 10-1 yesterday morning, were down to 6-1 by mid-afternoon.