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Bryce Heys- The man and his horse
16 Feb 2017

Bryce Heys wishes he could go back and turn off the tears.

Standing in the Flemington mounting yard, minutes after Spieth (Thorn Park x Stella Livia) had been beaten a nose in the Darley Classic, everyone saw his release of emotion.

It is a moment that Heys wants to forget but one that also endeared the 31-year-old to many thousands watching the live telecast of the Spring Carnival.

"I made an egg of myself, I didn't want to be a sore loser, I wanted to be gracious in defeat and congratulate the winner but it was just a realisation that you don't get many opportunities like that and when you've got limited darts, you can't just hit the board, you've got to hit the bullseye," he said.

Heys will be back in Melbourne on Saturday, with Spieth aiming up for another shot at a Group 1 race that could define the career of both horse and trainer.

Spieth is running in the Black Caviar Lightning, a race that financially means significantly more than the $750,000 purse on offer given his potential future as a stallion.

And that is the exact motivator that drives Heys as a trainer.

"I like training fillies and I like training stayers, but the ultimate for me is getting good colts and running them down the straight in feature races," he said.

"I believe it is the Blue Riband, like the 100m sprint final at the Olympics, there is plenty at stake, so much is riding on the result."

The emergence of Spieth in the past 12 months as a top-class sprinter has given Heys an identity but his life as a horse trainer is still a grind.

Heys has 18 gallopers on his books and only eight in work at Warwick Farm in Sydney's west.

Horses are his passion although there have been times in the past three years when he questioned why he is pursuing his ambition as a trainer.

This ambition to be a trainer has been with Heys since he was a boy, where he grew up on a farm in New Zealand.

He hails from Huntly, in the Waikato region, but not from a family that had a history in racing.

"It was only me and my Mum, she is a single parent but good friends of hers had some racehorses, Mum's friend's husband trained a couple and I would spend a lot of time at the stables when Mum was at work," he said.

"I just loved the horses, I would spend as much time with them as I could, this is talking in my primary school days, I'd be with them in the paddocks, helping out in the morning, get them ready for the races, milk the cows and then go to school.

"I'd try and get to the races at Te Rapa whenever I could, I just loved it.

"That is when I wanted to become the trainer but I never had the confidence to know how to really pursue it, Mum couldn't just set me up as a trainer, I had to find a way but wasn't sure how to do it.

"And it wasn't just Kiwi racing that I liked, I was following the Australian racing from Sydney and Melbourne.

"We had a version of Best Bets in New Zealand, it wasn't the same as here but it was like my bible, I'd have it in my back pocket everywhere I went. I would get a copy every Monday and Thursday and follow all the results and keep up with everything that was happening over in Australia."

Rugby was another of Heys' passions and this led to him attending boarding school but unfortunately that kept him away from what he loved the most.

"I started resenting school, I didn't want to be there because all I wanted to do was work with the horses," Heys said.

"Being at boarding school probably fuelled my hunger even more, I knew then that I had to do something with horses."

Upon leaving school, his first real introduction to the workforce came with employment at Windsor Park Stud in Cambridge.

By his own admission, Heys had a few kinks but they were straightened out by owner Nelson Schick, his son Rodney and general manager Steve Till.

"They worked me hard and I needed it," Hey said.

"I learnt so much at Windsor Park, I was handling stallions, working with the mares, crutching sheep, working on the tractor. I was doing anything that needed to be done.

"I was there for three years and they set me up with what I needed to know to become a trainer.

"Steve Till said to me that I needed to study pedigrees, so he gave me his old Inglis Easter yearling sale catalogues, he taught me how to break them down, what worked, what didn't and I would study them religiously, reading them every night and watching horses from particular families."

And it was during this time at Windsor Park that Heys became fond of Thorn Park, the sire of Spieth.

But it would be several years before he would be in a position to purchase a yearling that has the potential to change his life.

First he needed to become a trainer, which led him to jumping on a plane and moving to Sydney.

Heys had always admired John Hawkes as a trainer. He idolised his ability to purchase a yearling colt and mould them in to a stallion.

"I'd follow him around at the sales in New Zealand, I'd watch what horses he was pulling out, I'd observe, see what was knocked down to him and follow their careers," he said.

"I had a plan of moving to Sydney and going to work for Mr Hawkes."

But upon landing in Sydney, Heys had no understanding that Warwick Farm, where John Hawkes trained, was situated in the outer western suburbs of Sydney.

That made it difficult for someone who had no prior knowledge of the sprawling city, but he did realise Randwick was somewhat close to the airport and a short bus ride later he was out the front of John O'Shea's High Street stable.

"I basically knocked on the door, asked for a job and it went from there," Heys said.

This was 2007 and Racing To Win was O'Shea's top galloper at the time.

Heys escalated through the ranks to become O'Shea's foreman, an education that gave him a greater understanding of what it took to be successful in Sydney.

"It is hard to know what is required until you are put in that position, I knew how to work with horses but I didn't know how to run a commercial stable," Heys said.

"That is what I learnt from John. It was a real eye-opener, it is not like back home in New Zealand. It took me a while to get my head around it, it is cut throat but I am thankful for the experience and what I learnt from John during that time."

During his seven years with O'Shea, Heys had the opportunity to meet many powerful owners, including Michael O'Keefe, who has been one of his biggest supporters, along with Nick and Amy Vass and John and Kath Murray.

When Heys decided to become a trainer and operate his own stable in late 2013, O'Keefe was only too happy to help put horses under his care.

And at the top of their hit-list was to try and find a Thorn Park colt.

"I was inspecting yearlings at several farms in New Zealand and then I spotted this chestnut colt in a paddock at Trelawney Stud and straight away I knew it had to be a Thorn Park as he looked so much like his old man," he said.

"I'd worked with a lot of Thorn Park's during my time at Windsor Park but physically I'd never seen one look as close to him.

"Straight away I rang Michael and said 'I think I've found our Thorn Park'."

This was in November 2013, so a two-month wait ensued until he was offered for sale at Karaka.

Heys didn't officially have his trainer's licence but he knew he had to buy the Thorn Park colt.

"To Michael's credit, he had the gun loaded, we were willing to go for much more than what we ended up paying for him, he cost $200,000 but we genuinely thought we would pay more," Heys said.

"We just didn't want to leave the sale without the horse and thankfully we got him."

That horse is Spieth, named after American golfer Jordan Spieth.

"We were throwing around ideas for names and Spieth had just won the US Masters, I thought it sounded like a good name and threw it in the hat and the boys liked it, that is it," he added.

Spieth was broken in early and was showing promise that he would be sharp enough to race as a two-year-old.

But minor setbacks and signs that he needed more time delayed his racetrack debut until he was three.

Heys travelled Spieth to Melbourne for a spring campaign, kicking him off at Sandown in a BM70, where placed second to subsequent stakes winner Secret Agenda before winning his maiden at Pakenham.

His next run was in the Caulfield Guineas Prelude, a huge step that Heys wasn't overly keen on.

But having missed his two-year-old season, there was pressure from the ownership group to test whether he could be a Guineas contender.

He clearly wasn't up to that standard at the time and was put away over summer.

His autumn campaign also started in similar circumstances. Despite having only won a Pakenham maiden, there was pressure to line Spieth up against the best of his age group in the Arrowfield Stud Stakes.

Horses like Japonisme, Counterattack, Takedown, Kinglike and Ghisoni were in the Group 2 contest and while not disgraced, Spieth again showed he wasn't quite ready.

"That is when I had to put the foot down because I could see the horse wasn't coping and needed to learn how to race in easier company," Heys said.

"But it is difficult when you are a young trainer and owners have paid big money for a horse who we all believed was above average, I learnt a very good lesson that you can't rush them and that I needed to speak up as a trainer and make the calls."

Next stop was a Class 1 at Kembla Grange and Spieth gapped them by five lengths.

He then went to Rosehill and beat a quality field including King's Troop, who had been heavily backed.

That was the performance that gave Heys encouragement that Spieth was starting to learn his craft.

Given that winning a feature race down the Flemington straight was the ultimate goal, a trip to Melbourne for a late season three-year-old contest would provide a small glimpse of how his raw sprinter would handle the arena.

Spieth again passed with flying colours and now the momentum was building.

It was at that point that Heys privately mapped out a path towards the Group 1 Darley Classic.

It was a lofty goal considering the stage of Spieth's career but one Heys wanted to work towards if his horse continued to improve.

Such progression was there for all to see with his brilliant first-up win in the Tattersall's Lightning at Randwick and now it was full steam ahead to the Darley Classic, a race that had the potential to stamp his future as a stallion.

History shows that the long-range effort was foiled by a short head.

It was a defeat that Heys found initially hard to cop but one that also confirmed his belief Spieth was an elite sprinter and capable of competing on the biggest stage.

Fast forward to now and the Lightning is the next opportunity to seize the all-important Group 1.

Hugh Bowman has been booked for the ride and he has drawn barrier five.

Spieth is considered the best of the older horses, sitting on the third line of betting at $5 behind the three-year-old pair of Flying Artie ($4.60) and Star Turn ($4.80).

"I've done everything I can to have him right for this race, it is up to Hughie now," he said.

Heys won't let his emotions get the better of him if he is defeated.

Victory on the other hand, well he might not be the only one. -racing.com