Queensland’s premier trainer Robert Heathcote may well have the home state’s richest thoroughbred event snookered. Rob Heathcote has an up-front warrior and a powerhouse finisher primed for Saturday’s $1.36m Stradbroke Handicap.
The one time European tourist coach driver will start Buffering and Solzhenitsyn in the Eagle Farm contest.
“He [Solzhenitsyn] is a genuine group 1 horse in his own right,” one Robert Heathcote said this week.
“He has won at that level, I’d be the least surprised if he stormed home and won.
“Big, strong, I’ve been saying, he is not the fastest horse in the stable but he is certainly the strongest, he can sustain a run for a long way.”
But Buffering is the stable fancy. Third time lucky for the sprinter that has taken on the freak. Second to Black Caviar in the Patinack, down the famed Flemington straight.
Third behind the now retired unbeaten wonder horse in the Lightning when sizzling up the same course some 200m shorter.
Then there was Black Caviar’s punching bag Hay List. The troubled hulk nosed Buffering out of the toughest sprint on the Australian racing calendar, the Newmarket Handicap of last year.
Buffering is a horse every thoroughbred trainer wants to saddle up in the dark of morning when punters are still sleeping.
“I think he can,” Heathcote replied when asked about victory in Saturday’s major. The one Buffering ran second in last year when carrying 58kg.
The son of Mossman ran 4th in the Stradbroke the previous year but this time round it may well be different.
“I said to a guy the other morning there are a lot of narks out there,” Heathcote said.
“He has had 15 goes at group 1 level and hasn’t won but you need so many things to go your way. He was three deep all the way in last year’s Stradbroke and still ran second.
“He is good enough.”
Why? Heathcote knows Buffering can carry the weight. He knows the gelding has a home track advantage. Buffering has drawn the right barrier in six when he was drawn in 14 last year.
“There are things you cannot predict, there will be no excuses unless something weird happens.
“He has competed against the best, Black Caviar, Sepoy, Foxwedge, all quality, and Hay List beat him a head in the Newmarket, Sea Siren, a multiple Group 1 winner, beat him a head in the Doomben 10000 last year.”
To think the one time bus driver is bearing down on the big one in Queensland and bases may well be covered.
“It is a neat one million to the winner this year and the club is to be applauded,” Heathcote said.
“I think Epaulette is the one to beat. Darley are a formidable team, they’ve got stronger and stronger across the nation.”
And don’t forget about Excellantes in Saturday’s Lightning while Heathcote may well end up being the punter’s pal.
“Excellantes is going well,” Heathcote said.
“The mare, Fire Up Fifi is absolutely flying, she’ll go fire in the Dane Ripper.”
By Craig Young