Heathcote is a racing superstar in Queensland. There’s his Gr.1 Al Quoz Sprint win at Meydan during the 2016 Dubai World Cup race meeting, and now there’s his new stable star Rothfire (aka the “Thrilla From Chinchilla”) who not only returned to racing from a career-ending injury sustained last year but also secured a 2021 TAB Everest slot ahead of many top Australian sprinting peers.
The Queenslander grew up as one of ten children in Tasmania, where his early career choices could not have been any further from Horse Racing. They included being a Photo Engrave at the Examiner, later moved to the travel industry where he rose from a guide to a tour manager in London and also managed a Ski Lodge in an Austrian Ski resort for several winter seasons.
Rob’s first introduction to the world of Thoroughbred Racing was visiting the many racetracks of England where he worked with his brother, Wayne. He got to witness some of the world’s finest horse flesh including the great, Danehill race.
Robert eventually found his way back to Australia and was granted his racehorse trainer’s license in 1997. He applied his life skills and common sense to finish sixth in the Premiership in his first year with only a small team of racehorses.
Over the next 24 years Rob has trained over 1500 winners including eleven Group Ones with stable star Buffering having seven to his name to date.
Ever willing to learn and improve his skills, he sought advice from some of the industry greats in Eric Kirwan and the late Bruce McLachlan. “I made some mistakes, but I was very careful not to make them again and to learn from them,” said Heathcote, a man who imbues his owners with a combination of confidence and playfulness for the industry, through his wonderful ability to communicate and his very approachable personality.
In this interview with Everest Diaries, the trainer shares his experience helping Rothfire recover and discusses his commitment to making owners feel like part of the 'racing family'.
Q: The fact that Rothfire is back racing is a testament to your faith in him and the effort that many put into his recovery. What was involved in his return journey? How did he get back so quickly?
A: From the time of his injury until now has been 11 months so it has been a lengthy continuous rehabilitation process. Initially 5 months at the Emeran Park rehab facility north of Sydney and since then here at the Eagle Farm training centre and Washpool Lodge. His rehab has involved water resistance training, dry treadmill work, long steady slow pace work with gradual work intensity rises over many months.
Q: How did Rothfire come to you?
A: I purchased Rothfire from a breeding farm near to Chinchilla Qld. His pedigree was considered not strong enough to be a viable yearling sale entry, so I took the chance and purchased him sight unseen over the telephone.
Q: As a trainer, what do you feel is the most important element in the industry?
A: I believe that owners are the most important people in racing. We have retained some owners from the first year I started training. I believe this is a testament to our commitment to clear communication and regular updates about their horses as well as my own approachability. I believe my owners should feel like part of the 'racing family'.
Q: What positive change would you like to see in the industry?
A: I like the fact the question refers to Racing as indeed an Industry. It is a massive National employer and generate s millions of dollars leaving an enormous economic footprint.
Q: What book or movie or tv series have you enjoyed recently and why?
A: I am currently reading the biography of Michael Caine…’Blowing the Bloody doors off’. A longtime favourite actor of mine and a great man.