Nothing will ever top winning a Group 1 with Buffering in Dubai for Queensland trainer Rob Heathcote.
But winning the Group 1 Moir Stakes (1000m) on Friday night with the horse he once thought could be as good as the legendary sprinter would go damn close.
The career of Rothfire has had more twists than an Agatha Christie novel and the symmetry is not lost on Heathcote when asked about bringing the five-year-old to the same race his legendary sprinter won three times in five attempts.
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Buffering was the headline act of what was a golden era of racing for Heathcote, who regularly enjoyed spring carnival success in Victoria.
After toying with Sydney in recent years, the Eagle Farm trainer is back to where his love affair began, and says Moonee Valley holds a special place in his heart.
“The most satisfying win of my career was going all the way to Dubai and winning on the big stage,” he said.
“It was an extraordinary period in my life because I had come off some good Group 1 wins with Solzhenitsyn, Woorim and Fire Up Fifi ran well, then lo and behold Buffering comes along on to the scene.
“It gave us six years of incredible buzz with the Victorian spring carnival. It is bloody special this time of year down there, you can almost touch it, it is that special.
“That’s why the other day (winning Group 2 McEwen Stakes) was right up there with one of the most satisfying wins I have had.
“It was 10 years ago when Woorim won the Oakleigh Plate through until 2016 when I retired Buff, it was years of just looking forward to Melbourne in the spring each year.
“It was always a matter of ‘who is going with Buff this year?’”
Heathcote once thought Rothfire could be his next Buffering, but in a cruel twist of fate he was struck down by a series of injuries which would have seen most horses retired.
Both horses, however, have their quirky backstories which started with humble beginnings.
Part-owned by former AC Milan goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac, Buffering’s owners attempted to make his silks match that of the footballing giants, only to discover they had instead made replicas of their cross-town rivals Inter Milan.
The $22,000 purchase would go on to bank $7.3m in a stunning career that netted seven Group 1s.
Rothfire was purchased over the phone for $10,000 but a Nigerian phishing scheme got in the way and made Heathcote pay twice.
They both ended up being money well spent.
Heathcote hopes Rothfire one day can enjoy retirement just like Buffering, 15, who calls part owner Bruce Harry’s property in the south of Brisbane home.
“I actually thought for one fleeting stage that he was as good as Buffering,” Heathcote said.
“I don’t think he will ever reach those heights with the injuries he has had now, but if he can knock off the Moir or the Manikato, bloody hell it would be satisfying.
“The most extraordinary statistic for me, which is an Australasian record, is that Buff ran in 35 Group 1s.
“I have had owners say it would be a huge thrill to run in 1 Group 1. He won seven of them too, he wasn’t making up the numbers.”
It would continue a golden run for Queensland trainers in Victoria this spring, something Heathcote says they have always been capable of.
“Our very best horses are as good as theirs, this has been going on for a while now, we just don’t have as many of them,” he said.
“I have enjoyed a lot of success there, Tony (Gollan) is clearly a super trainer, Steve O’Dea and Matty Hoysted are not dills, look at what they’ve done.
“Others have gone down and had success, it shows we know what we are doing and we have the right horses.
“At the end of the day, training good horses isn’t that hard because they are good horses, it is the slow bastards that are hard.”
Originally published as Rob Heathcote reflects on Buffering’s extraordinary career ahead of Moir Stakes bid with Rothfire