Cameron Crockett has never been happier for one of his horses to be beaten by a neck.
Given the Mudgee trainer's reaction as Nictock crossed the line at Rosehill, you could be forgiven for thinking the gelding had actually won the 1100m-race, not Top Striker.
Crockett's joy was mainly because he had feared the four-year-old might have been at the end of his tether as a racehorse.
Despite his record of seven wins from nine starts before his most recent run, Nictock had developed a tendency to strike himself on the off side hock during track work and trials which left Crockett perplexed.
Nictock had also ended his previous preparation with the only unplaced outing of his career, so there was plenty riding on his comeback on June 2.
"You think he could be done for, so it was the best second I've ever had by far," Crockett said.
That performance has left Crockett optimistic Nictock can continue go one better in Saturday's Benchmark 85 Handicap (1100m) at Rosehill.
"There were so many things against him, so for him to come out and get beaten by 0.3 of a length was very encouraging," he said.
"To have him run like that, he's still with us and there's still improvement in him."
Crockett estimated Nictock was only operating at 80 per cent capacity on his return due to the self-harm issue and the 1100m was a touch longer than ideal first-up.
"At the top of the straight I thought they're going to collar him and when the other horse headed him and i thought he was probably going to beat him by a length and a half," Crockett said.
"To his credit he dug in fairly deep."
Although looking forward to Nictock's second-up run, Crockett admitted the likelihood of a soft track was not ideal as Nictock prefers to be on top of the ground.
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