Two decades on from seeing his beloved Double Trigger become the first three-time winner of the Qatar Goodwood Cup, trainer Mark Johnston still has the fondest memories of those glory days with his hugely-popular stayer.
Despite training the best part of 300 miles further north, Middleham-based Johnston – who will be in opposition to Stradivarius on Tuesday when he bids to emulate Double Trigger – has become one of the go-to men at the Chichester circuit, saddling 78 winners at Glorious Gooodwood and 147 across all meetings at the track.
He has captured the showpiece fixture’s top trainer award 12 times – including in four of the last five years – and admits Double Trigger was a catalyst to his incredible course success.
“There is no doubt Double Trigger was a big part of it. I’ve got owners who first decided to send me a horse when they saw Double Trigger win at Goodwood,” said Johnston.
“If you walked into a betting shop or on a racecourse and asked people to name a horse trained by Mark Johnston, they’d probably say Double Trigger first. It’s a long time ago – it’s 21 years since he retired – but I think I’m still better remembered for Double Trigger than anything else.”
A chestnut son of Ela-Mana-Mou, Double Trigger was unbeaten in two starts as a juvenile, and proved towards the end of his three-year-old campaign that staying was his game by finishing third in the St Leger at Doncaster and winning the Italian equivalent.
He would go on to become the one of the most popular stayers of the modern era and a household name – but he was not always so well liked at home.
“He had a terrible temperament and was difficult to train. He was fierce in his stable and would bite you if he got the chance,” Johnston recalled.
“Bobby Elliott, who was our main work rider at the time, recommended we gelded him before he’d even run. He was a bit of a circus horse and spent as much time on his back legs as he did on all four.”
It was in 1995 that Double Trigger first struck Goodwood Cup gold, memorably getting the better of his stable companion and full-brother Double Eclipse by a neck.
“I should have Peter O’Sullevan’s commentary on my phone when people are on hold or something, as it’s a fantastic commentary,” said Johnston.
Double Trigger missed out on a trip to Goodwood in 1996, but returned the following year to regain his crown.
A hat-trick looked unlikely in 1998 after his white face dropped back through the field, but he roared back admirably in the closing stages to get back up and bring the house down.
Unsurprisingly, Johnston remembers the day with great fondness.
“By that time he was renowned as a front-running horse and in many ways that was his most exciting race,” said Johnston.
“His form had dipped a bit and people were thinking he was finished, and sure enough he dropped away into fourth or fifth place.
“We all thought he was beaten, but he hit the rising ground and won it and that was probably one of the most memorable races of my whole career.”
Double Trigger would only run once more before retiring with injury, claiming a third win in the Doncaster Cup. He now has a bar named after him on Town Moor and is immortalised by a bronze statue.
Johnston said: “After Goodwood we could see the writing was on the wall a little bit, there were a few soundness issues with him by that time.
“He went to the Doncaster Cup and won that as well and retired on the ultimate high.”
The John Gosden-trained Stradivarius will be a red-hot favourite to claim his third successive Goodwood Cup victory, having already won his second Yorkshire Cup and successfully defended his crown in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot this season.
Another chestnut with a white blaze on his face, the five-year-old has certainly built up a following over the past couple of years, but Johnston – whose Dee Ex Bee has a length to find on Stradivarius from the Gold Cup – doubts whether he has quite reached Double Trigger’s level of popularity just yet.
“Is Stradivarius a people’s horse? I suppose he is. I feel oblivious to it,” said Johnston.
“I think Double Trigger was possibly more of a people’s horse, maybe because of his colour and his style of running.
“When he won his third Goodwood Cup, I was in my usual place in the owners’ stand and I was staggered how many people – including trainers and their husbands and wives – were running to the winner’s enclosure to get a spot to watch him coming in.
“I’ve never experienced that before or since. I won’t be doing it if Stradivarius wins!”