Promising Mudgee three-year-old Nictock is living proof that first impressions are often not the best guide in racing.
The Cameron Crockett-trained gelding has compiled a handy record so far in his career and chases his fourth win from just five starts when he steps out in the Class 3 Handicap (900m) at Wellington on Tuesday.
His one defeat came first-up at Royal Randwick on June 10 when he encountered a heavy 10 track but ran a game third to Clipper and Conniving in a Class 3 Highway (1000m). Nictock has come a long way since he first arrived at Crockett's stable last year.
Bred by his owners, Ken and Ian Brady, the son of Nicconi initially went into work with Port Macquarie trainer Neil Godbolt but was transferred to Crockett before he had raced.
"I didn't think too much of him at all at first," said Crockett. "I think he'd had problems with shin soreness and he was just a real 'narky' horse who was dirty on the world when he first arrived here. But once we started to gallop him on the track he just completely changed and immediately became a real racehorse."
Nictock made his debut at Gilgandra on January 1, romping home in a 1100m Maiden Plate by three lengths. He then won a Class 1 over 1100m at Wellington on January 15 and a Class 2 over 1200m at Bathurst on January 27 before Crockett sent him for a spell.
Crockett headed to Sydney when Nictorck returned to racing, resuming in a Class 3 Highway over 1000m at Randwick on June 10 even though he encountered a track rated a heavy 10.
Ridden by Greg Ryan, who was keen to stick with him after partnering him at his Wellington and Bathurst wins, Nictock battled on well to finish third to Clipper and Conniving. That form has stood up extremely well with the Matt Dale-trained Clipper running third to Unique Lovely and Princess Of Queens at Caulfield at her next start and the Matt Dunn-trained Conniving subsequently winning at Randwick on June 24.
"I was in two minds about running him first-up in that heavy 10 at Randwick and, in hindsight, I wished I'd waited for another Highway two weeks later," said Crockett. "It was the heaviest track I've ever seen. I was staying at Randwick and was amazed the meeting actually went ahead.
"He wasn't comfortable in the heavy going and if the track had been firmer I think he would have been right in the finish with Clipper and Conniving. And the form out of that race now looks very strong."
Back on a likely good surface at Wellington on Tuesday, Crockett expects Nictock to be hard to beat although he is wary of the drop back in distance to 900m.
"I've given him a bit of time to get over that first-up run on the heavy 10 and thought this race over the 900m on Tuesday for prizemoney was better than a barrier trial," he said. "I just hope it's not a touch short for him."
Crockett isn't sure where Nictock will head next, but long term hopes he will develop into a contender for next year's Country Championships.
"He's quickly gone right up in the weights now which makes it very tough," he said. "Horses like him really pay the price for their consistency - he's already a Benchmark 64 horse. But we'll just keep plugging away and find the right races for him. I think he'll eventually run out a strong 1400m and hopefullly he could tackle next year's Country Championships."
Crockett will have one other runner at Wellington on Tuesday but his expectations aren't high about the chances of first-starter Crim in the 3YO Maiden Plate (1100m): "She's unsure what it's (being a racehorse) all about at the moment and she's definitely going to need more time," he said.
Tuesday's seven-race Wellington program also features the Mountain & Rivers Flying Hcp (1100m) which sees the return of consistent Dubbo mare Danish Lace.
Winner of five races and placed another 10 times from her 23 starts, the Peter Nestor-trained six-year-old looks the obvious one to beat on her form prior a spell. She won three straight races at Wellington, Narromine and Gilgandra last campaign before running into the slick Forbes-trained Lake Lugarno in the $30,000 Dulhunty Showcase Hcp (1000m) on February 19 and again when third to that same galloper in the $45,000 Wellington Town Plate (1100m) on March 12.
The rail for Tuesday's meeting will be in the true position and the track is currently rated a good 4.