Robert Heathcote has almost lived two lives and both of them have been extraordinary.
Leaving Australia for Europe in his early 20s, he spent 15 years working for major international travel companies, staying in hotels on the Grand Canal in Venice and losing himself in the back streets of Rome.
Following a stay with his UK-based brother Wayne, who he credits for his interest in racing, Heathcote returned to Australia to manage his sibling’s bloodstock interests.
“After six months I said, ‘Wayne, give me a go at this training caper’,” Heathcote said.
“So then I read a few books. I never learned from another trainer, I had no knowledge of horses and away we went.
“I have been lucky because 15 years travelling and then I got into racing, so I have had two labours of love my whole life.”
Despite having no previous experience with horses, Heathcote has gone on to become one of Queensland’s most successful trainers, his best galloper the outstanding Buffering who won seven Group One races.
He never thought he would get another horse as good, then along came Rothfire.
An odds-on favourite for Saturday’s $1 million Golden Rose, the Heathcote-Rothfire story was almost over before it started.
The trainer bought him sight unseen because he liked Rothfire’s sire, Rothesay, and at $11,000 the horse was cheap.
But Heathcote’s payment was intercepted by a Nigerian phishing scam and couldn’t be recovered, so he had to fork out again.
“I paid $22,000 for ‘Buff’ and I paid $11,000 for Rothfire but I had to pay it twice. Oddly enough, they both ended up costing the same,” Heathcote said.
Rothfire has since established himself among the best of his generation, winning seven of his eight starts and more than $850,000.
He has also been snapped up for a slot in the $15 million The Everest.
Heathcote is bullish about the three-year-old’s chances in both races but it is the Golden Rose that holds most immediacy.
Despite his short odds and a Group One win over 1400 metres, there is a theory some of Rothfire’s rivals will be better suited than him over the Golden Rose distance.
Heathcote does not share that view.
“I’ve got news for them, so too is Rothfire because I actually believe he is a better 1400 metre horse than he probably is a 1200 metre horse,” he said.
“In the J J Atkins, he might not have beaten a stellar field of two-year-olds but it’s how he did it. He sat on a hot speed and he sprinted away and ran a very comparable time to the open horses in the Stradbroke 30 minutes later.”
Heathcote might not have grown up with thoroughbreds but his time as a student of the world has prepared him well for his next chapter as a horse trainer.
He sees his journey with Rothfire as another adventure and takes none of it for granted.
“It’s been a fun ride for a little cheapie. He is already a Group One winner and a dual Group Two winner and we’re going in at tomato sauce odds for another Group One on Saturday, so it’s pinch yourself stuff for me.”