Bobby Zen

For the first time since 1996, Seamie Heffernan will not be based at Ballydoyle–but Aidan O’Brien’s long and trusted ally has revealed that he still hopes to be riding big-race winners in the Coolmore colours in the future. 

It has been one of the worst kept secrets in Irish racing for some time that Heffernan, one of the constants at Ballydoyle for almost three decades now, would not be returning to the fold. 

And on the eve of the opening day of the Flat season in Ireland, Heffernan lifted the lid on the reasons behind taking the decision to step away from Ballydoyle in favour of tackling life “in the fast lane” as a freelance jockey. He also revealed that he has already been approached to ride for one of the major opposition stables.

Heffernan told TDN Europe, “It was my decision. When I look outside my back door on my farm, I know that I have been so privileged because I started off with absolutely zero. I couldn’t believe it when I was offered the job behind Christy Roche in Ballydoyle back in 1996. 

“I have made many friends, plenty of money and I have loads of nice pictures and trophies. It’s not over yet but I just felt that I needed a change.”

He added, “For me to stay going, I felt it would be easier to stay going by not being based in Ballydoyle. Some lads will raise their eyebrows and wonder why. But, look it, I’m going to continue race riding so, if Aidan wants to use me, it will be absolutely fine. The only difference is that I won’t be riding out in Ballydoyle every day anymore.”

Heffernan and O’Brien have categorically denied that there has been any falling out. Speaking to the Racing Post on Sunday, O’Brien said, “Obviously I heard the rumours but I didn’t think any more about it. However, Seamus rang me last weekend to say he was going to go freelance. I totally respect that and I told him he’s welcome to come back any time he likes, we’re always here any time it suits him. That will always be the way, if it ever suits him.”

O’Brien added, “There has been absolutely no falling out in any way. Seamus rode a lot of very big, important winners for us and we’d always hope and wish the very best for Seamus going forward.” 

Together, O’Brien and Heffernan combined to win the Derby at Epsom in 2019 with Anthony Van Dyck, the Oaks in 2012 with Was and five more Irish Derby victories at the Curragh. But Heffernan’s personal highlight, marginally behind being offered the Ballydoyle gig in the first place, was guiding globetrotting sensation Highland Reel to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar in 2017.

Heffernan remembered, “I probably should have won an Arc on Highland Reel but, a couple of weeks later, I hit the nail on the head–that Breeders’ Cup win was awesome. That would have to be the one that sticks out. But, I would nearly have to put that second to being offered the job at Ballydoyle in the first place back in 1996. Getting the job was my highlight.”

So what will a day in the life of Heffernan look like this season? Outside of O’Brien, for whom the 51-year-old rode 34 winners from 155 rides domestically last season, Tipperary-based handlers Willie Browne [rides] and Kevin Coleman [22 rides] were also major supporters. Heffernan says that he is committed to maintaining and developing those relationships going forward as well as working closely with a number of longstanding owners to identify young talent. 

Heffernan said, “A change is as good as a holiday. I’m going to be busy and I’m going to be riding on. I feel very fit and I’m very focussed. It’s onwards and upwards, hopefully. I have little bits and pieces and interests in horses. When I set my mind on something, I try very hard to make it happen. I’m going to try hard to make things happen this year. I can’t call the people I will be riding for smaller trainers–they just don’t have the same ammunition as the big boys. I’ll be working very closely with some of my owners to get the ammunition and to make it happen for those trainers.”

He continued, “I feel that I have achieved a lot and, for me to stay happy and keep achieving, I needed a change. Hopefully it’s the right decision. I can’t stress how thankful I am to the Magniers, the Tabors and the Smiths. With their pedigrees, I achieved the most on the biggest stages. I can’t stress how thankful I am to them for never saying, ‘we don’t want Seamie.’ I am sure I will ride plenty of winners in their silks again.”

Heffernan has been associated with many of Coolmore’s champions, none more high profile than the legendary Galileo, who he partnered to Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial success in 2001.  Coolmore boss John Magnier and his partners are understood to have given Heffernan their full backing in his decision to go freelance after a long and fruitful association riding many of Ballydoyle’s big guns. 

He explained, “They completely respected my decision. Whatever I felt was the right thing to do, they had no problem with it. I would be inclined to say I have spent all of my career in the slow lane so maybe I might chance putting on the indicator and heading into the fast lane for a while. Maybe it’s time I put myself in the fast lane to see if I can handle it!”

Asked if that meant he had designs on challenging for a championship, Heffernan concluded, “I don’t have the ammunition so I don’t think I would have any chance. Unless you are riding for Joseph O’Brien, Dermot Weld, those sort of trainers, you can’t win a title because you just don’t have the numbers. I have been approached [by one of the bigger stables] but I am happy enough for my agent [Ruaidhri Tierny] to do his best and I will do my best for him.”


The post “I Needed A Change” – Seamie Heffernan Explains Ballydoyle Departure appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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