By Ray Hickson
As far as trainer Rob Heathcote is concerned it’s now over to his star sprinter Rothfire to announce himself as a live TAB Everest contender when he makes his long awaited comeback at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
All the groundwork has been done, the slot has been secured through a deal with James Kennedy, there’s nothing more Heathcote can do but wait and see what unfolds in the Group 2 $500,000 Bowermans Commercial Furniture Shorts (1100m).
And, despite calming the nerves with a Northern Territory fishing trip this week, Heathcote said he keeps hearing the words of his vet Phil Burguez in his head as the horse recovered from a serious injury sustained in the 2020 Golden Rose.
That Rothfire will either make it back or he won’t.
“The 200m mark under full race pressure is where my heart will skip a beat. That’s where he’s got to do it,’’ he said.
“If Rothfire can be competitive in the biggest stage in Sydney it’s good for racing.
“When I first started to formulate a plan nine months ago I said I’m going to The Shorts. I’m not aiming to kick a behind, I’m going for a goal. Straight to the top.”
Rothfire’s very appearance in The Shorts is almost worthy of miracle status.
Heathcote was sure the TAB Everest dream was over 12 months ago after that Golden Rose where he fractured a sesamoid in running fourth in the three-year-old Group 1 as an odds-on favourite.
He’d secured an Everest slot and was looming as a major player, that’s why he’s entitled to have a few nerves about how the gelding will stand up, after a long absence, to a high pressure Shorts.
“When I first saw the X-ray I went ‘that’s it, he’ll never race again’,’’ Heathcote said.
“I thought we’ll just get him right and do whatever we can. But we left no stone unturned, we’d smash him with rehab and give him every opportunity and lo and behold here he is.
“A year pretty much to the week he fractures a sesamoid bone he secures a spot in the Everest and likely to go around in The Shorts a genuine winning chance.”
The four-year-old was a firming $5.50 chance with TAB on Wednesday in the Shorts and Heathcote and Kennedy will have a very good idea of where they stand as he takes on fellow Everest confirmed runners Nature Strip, Lost And Running, Gytrash, Masked Crusader and Eduardo.
Tim Clark has the ride on Rothfire and he’s drawn the middle in the nine horse field, right alongside Nature Strip.
He arrived in Sydney midweek with handler Mel Sharpe and Heathcote said his exhibition gallop between races at Doomben last Saturday told him the horse is on target.
“He’s had his final bit of gallop work, the horse is fit and sound and healthy and ready to take it on,’’ he said.
“He ran 33.02 seemingly untouched but I knew he would. There was no pressure (in the gallop) but he’s a horse that has lovely rhythm. I shake my head some mornings with what I see.
Rothfire, our latest confirmed #TABEverest runner clocks 33.02 for his last 600m in a gallop between races in Brisbane. He was secured by James Kennedy to run in the $15m sprint on October 16. @tabcomau @7horseracing pic.twitter.com/uUJ01gqEM5
— Racing NSW (@racing_nsw) September 11, 2021
“He’s come back better. Whether he’s come back sounder I hope but, man, he’s a bloody machine.”
With so much at stake, not least a $15 million contest coming up, Heathcote has said a top four finish is a pass mark but of course he’s gunning for the win.
“I know I’m in the game because this is not his grand final but I have him forward enough,’’ he said.
“That’s why people were a little surprised when I produced him in that barrier trial (on August 3) and he ran the quickest trial ever seen at Doomben.
“I wanted him to, I wanted to make a statement that not only we’ve got him back but that he’s a pretty good horse.”