Trainer Robert Heathcote at his Eagle Farm stables. Picture: Tara Croser
Trainer Robert Heathcote at his Eagle Farm stables. Picture: Tara Croser

Trainer at war with system over Currie charges

THE most intriguing relationship in Queensland racing is the one between two men who have no relationship at all.

It's the story of Ben and Bob. It sounds like a children's fairytale but don't sweat it out waiting for a happy ending.

Ben Currie is the leading Queensland horse trainer who, for the moment, is free to train after being given a second stay of proceedings in nine months after 28 charges were laid against him following a raid on his Toowoomba stables last April.

They were followed by four more positive swab charges and seven more charges including two which relate to a use of a jigger.

Robert Heathcote is a five time Brisbane premiership winning trainer watching events with a mixture of frustration and mounting disillusionment with the entire system.

 

Trainer Robert Heathcote at his Eagle Farm stables. Picture: Tara Croser
Trainer Robert Heathcote at his Eagle Farm stables. Picture: Tara Croser

This column does not accuse Currie of being guilty.

It is the very sight of him training on as he mounts a legal case in an attempt to clear his name that has disturbed Heathcote.

Queensland's major racing dramas are handled by the independent Queensland Racing Integrity Commission set up in 2016 but Heathcote has always maintained that racing should be run by people with a racing rather than police background and this long-running issue has strengthened his view that the local model just isn't working.

Embedded in an industry where many participants are notorious for roaring like Bengal tigers behind closed doors but squeaking like church mice when someone puts a microphone in front of them, Heathcote is happy to break from the whispering minority.

He admits when he saw Currie being interviewed by former jockey Bernadette Cooper on Sky Channel recently he had some "harsh words'' with Cooper and asked her "what are you interviewing him for? ... it's a bad look.''

He followed up by contacting Racing Queensland chief executive Brendan Parnell and asking "how can you let this brand erosion go on?''

"I was not just talking about him being allowed to train but about him being interviewed and stories being written about him,'' Heathcote said.

When Heathcote is in the mounting yard at the races he does not acknowledge Currie's presence.

He also claims that reports he directed sharp words at one of Currie's strappers last week were a fallacy.

 

Horse trainer Ben Currie is facing serious charges. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Horse trainer Ben Currie is facing serious charges. Picture: Mark Cranitch

"I have nothing to do with him (Currie). He goes about his business and I go about mine.''

Heathcote claims his stance is not personal. That he is playing the ball and not the man and it would not matter which rival trainer was involved.

Heathcote has got used to being trolled on his website where people call him a "c---" and an "arsehole,'' demanding that he "get off Currie's back.''

Racing is not designed or equipped for vigilante justice and Heathcote is walking an emotional tightrope between caring acutely for the industry and over-caring to the point where he cannot care any more.

"It has worn me down. I am getting to the stage where I don't care. It has flattened me. I turn 60 this year and I am beginning to question my future in racing.''

"Yes I am furious at Currie but I am more furious at the system.

"QRIC is not broken - it was never right in the first place. You cannot have the police overseeing the rules. I've had coppers say to me "we are going to try to catch blokes tubing - what's tubing?''

"We have now got into the embarrassing situation in Queensland where the legal system is being used to circumvent the rules of racing.''

"When I first started to express my concerns over integrity in racing (Integrity Commissioner) Ross Barnett said to me there was no cheating going on (by anyone) because the Racing Science Centre was not getting any positive swabs.

"And I said 'that was what they said about Lance Armstrong after his seventh Tour de France win'.''



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