One of the features of the season has been the presence among the élite of horses who have worked their way through the ranks. Court Masterpiece, Les Arcs and Enforcer, to name but three, once plied their trade in handicaps before emerging to make a mark at the highest level. But for sheer pound-for-pound improvement, there is one horse whose progress outshines all others.
Step forward, Young Mick. The four-year-old started the year a 52-rated maiden, incapable of winning a dire contest at Wolverhampton. He is now on a mark of 97, with a valuable 12-furlong handicap at the 'King George' meeting at Ascot the highlight of his eight triumphs this season and the Ebor, and even the Melbourne Cup in his sights.
So what has turned this banded race chump, bred by his owner Mike Kentish, into a budding champ? His trainer George Margarson identifies a number of factors.
"He was actually rated 75 as a two-year-old," he said, "but lost his way badly last year. I know my horses were badly out of form then, but even so, he was very disappointing. He was big and backward at two, and I expected him to be a nice horse at three.
"But on his second run it went wrong. I'd wanted him dropped in, but his rider set off in front and went 10 lengths clear. He had a hard race and he never thrived after that. I think he became depressed."
In any competitor, confidence is paramount, and Young Mick's was rock-bottom. Dropping back in trip - he is closely related to his owner's smart seven-furlong performer Young Ern - failed to work the oracle. He ended last year still winless, that glimmer of potential he had shown at two unfulfilled.
"He should have won that bad maiden at Wolverhampton," said Margarson, "but he ran terrible. So it was time for desperate action." That involved a hardening of resolve in the form of an even worse race, a class seven maiden claimer. And bingo! Young Mick ran home an easy three-length winner. It was the start of the roll, but not all was yet well.
"He looked awful, and he was unlevel behind," said Margarson. "But we kept running him, and he kept winning. And after the fourth race he was sound."
In the space of 14 days, Young Mick ran five times for three wins and inches-defeats in the other two. He notched another hat-trick in March, transferring his new self from the all-weather to grass. And the rest has become history, with victory in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot preceding his latest success.
It seems that banded claimers have their uses, after all. "That's where it started," said Margarson. "He had to use only 10 per cent of his engine and it was so easy for him that I think he realised that hey, this isn't so bad after all.
"We might have lost him and people have said to me that they wish they'd claimed him. But who knows, they might not have gone down the same make-or-break route as us and might not have got the same result, wouldn't have got that click."
As Young Mick, a son of King's Theatre, has come to terms mentally with his job, he has also matured physically and grown into his considerable frame.
"He's put on 50 kilos since January," said Margarson. "He's very relaxed at home, has never done anything but eat and sleep - even when he looked so spare he was still eating - and he loves the warm weather. In his box in the afternoon he's the one who stays cool while others get warm and fidgety.
"Everything has come together. He's got masses of confidence and belief in himself, he's very physically fit and he's thoroughly enjoying it. I ride him myself most days and I can feel it and when I can't, then he'll have a break."
Young Mick holds an entry in one of Saturday's Shergar Cup races, over the course and distance of his two best triumphs, and Margarson faces a dilemma about the star of his small Newmarket stable.
"It's difficult," he said. "Good money, a small field and the horse is in tremendous nick. But in a team event with perhaps an unfamiliar jockey going for points, I'd hate him to have a hard race and leave the Ebor at Ascot."
Nap: Take A Mile
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