It’s 5:50am at Eagle Farm, the sun is only just rising above Queensland’s most prestigious racetrack. Robert Heathcote has been there for two hours watching his charges go through their paces.
He looks like the quintessential horse trainer. Dressed in jeans, joggers, jacket and baseball cap. Stopwatch in one hand, binoculars the other.
Every one of Heathcote’s horses receives equal attention, he has 55 in work, but it’s pretty clear the one that gallops at 5:50am is special.
For starters he’s allowed training access to the course proper, something only reserved for the three Melbourne-bound gallopers in Heathcote’s stable.
When the horse called Buffering comes out to do his work, Heathcote gets up from his plastic chair at the bottom of the St Leger Grandstand, situated at the 200-metre mark of the Eagle Farm track.
“Here comes what I hope everyone will be saying is the best sprinter in Australia,” Heathcote says.
“And if he wins all three in Melbourne they will be.”
Buffering, who has placed numerous times behind champion sprinters Black Caviar and Hay List, headlines Heathcote’s spring brigade.
He will have a three-start campaign beginning with the Group 2 Schillaci Stakes and finishing with the two major spring sprints, the Group 1 Manikato Stakes and the Patinack Farm Classic.
Despite his success and obvious talent, the five-year-old is yet to win a Group 1 race.
He’s so often been the bridesmaid, with seven placings from 11 Group 1 starts showcasing his ability to match it with the best. The closest he has come to breaking the duck was in this year’s Newmarket Handicap when beaten in a photo by Hay List.
Heathcote, who has a picture of the star speedster as the background on his laptop, believes he has never been better poised to break through.
Apart from the obvious aid of no Black Caviar or Hay List this spring, Heathcote is confident Buffering is the best he’s ever been.
“I know it’s an old cliche and all trainers say it but I’m very excited because I genuinely believe he’s improved,” he says.
“He was excellent during the winter and he had the stone bruise which ruled him out of the BTC Cup and if he comes back at that level with no interruptions he’s going to be an awesome force.”
As the son of Mossman gets through a piece of routine trackwork, Heathcote talks enthusiastically about the sprinter he describes as a “real bulldog.”
“He’s not a big horse but he’s got such awesome power from his big backside,” the leading Queensland trainer says.
“He’s held well within himself out there today but you can just see he just wants to explode.”
When Buffering returns from his hit-out, Heathcote greets him affectionately, a bond obvious between both the best trainer and horse in Queensland.
“Buffy, Buffy,” Heathcote says as he pats the winner of more than $1.6 million in prizemoney.
“He’s pulled up like he’s done nothing, did I do enough on him?” Trackwork rider Melissa Leitch, who will accompany Buffering to Melbourne, asks Heathcote.
“He’s done plenty, he’s a fortnight ahead of schedule,” Heathcote replies.
Two weeks ahead of schedule is where Heathcote believes Buffering needs to be.
“As we saw in Brisbane with the stone bruise anything can happen so it’s nice to have a couple of extra weeks up the sleeve,” Heathcote says.
And if the exciting sprinter can do as Heathcote believes he can and claim a Group 1 title this spring?
“It’d be huge,” Heathcote says.
“He’s paid his dues now behind Black Caviar and Hay List. He deserves it and we’re confident he’s improved and ready to do so.”