There isn’t many tracks in NSW or Australia for that matter that jockey Michael Heagney hasn’t visited.
The well-travelled hoop was born and bred in the state’s Northern Tablelands in a little town called Guyra, and he has since gone on to forge a brilliant bush career that has seen him ride winners almost everywhere.
With his family based in Queensland, he has been travelling in and out of the South East and Southern Districts for the past 10 years, riding in NSW, Victoria, while taking working holidays in other states, enjoying his time most when riding in Western Australia.
“Before Covid, I would spend a week down here, go home to Queensland for a few days and fly back into Canberra after that and ride some more,” Heagney said.
“I was flying backwards and forward and then I would ride in Melbourne for a mate; I just sort of rode wherever I felt like riding.
“When it got cold in the wintertime, I’d go to Queensland or Western Australia and spend a bit of time there in Broome, Port Hedland and those places. I just love travelling.”
Since May 2020, leaving his Queanbeyan base has been hard, with Covid-19 restrictions preventing border travel.
“Since Covid, I’m sort of stuck in this area,” Heagney said.
“I’m in Queanbeyan but I’ll go up as far as Dubbo and Gilgandra and down south to Albury, Corowa and everywhere in between.”
The 54-year-old has watched his family grow up while plying his trade as one of Australia’s best and most recognised country hoops, and while it is easier now that they are older, he still missed the odd trip back home or visits from his wife and children.
“I have sort of been travelling my whole life, and you get used to it and the kids are grown up now and the oldest one is working and the next one is off to university,” Heagney said.
“It’s not like the kids are young. It’s just harder now because they used to jump on a plane and come down or I would go home, but I’m stuck here, and they are stuck up there.”
The in-form hoop has been rewarded for his resilience of late, booting home six winners from his previous 12 starts, including a treble at Leeton on Monday and a double at Queanbeyan on Tuesday.
“It’s nice to ride a few winners,” Heagney said.
“As long as you are getting winners and plenty of rides, it keeps you going. If I went back to Queensland, I’d be getting one or two rides a week – there are more jockeys than horses up there.
“Whereas down here, I’m still getting 20 rides a week.”
Despite visiting tracks in all different regions of NSW, Heagney didn’t necessarily have a favourite NSW country track, but he did suggest that luck seemed on his side whenever racing on his home track
“They are all much of a muchness. I don’t mind Queanbeyan. I’ve always had a lot of luck in Queanbeyan,” Heagney said.
“I mainly ride work there for Mick Smith and that keeps me ticking over, so I know the track pretty well.”
Highlighting Heagney’s dedication towards his job, he will travel to Dubbo on Friday before backing up at Wagga on Saturday and Cootamundra on Sunday, but it was all in a day’s work according to the veteran hoop.
“The toughest part is probably the long hours. That is the hardest thing really,” Heagney said.
“Some days I do 1000kms a day. Tomorrow I drive from Queanbeyan to Dubbo and ride all day, so it makes it a long day.
“It worth it. I’ve won most of the cups around here, but that is about the biggest thing I have done, but that’s why we do it.”
Heagney joked he had probably been through more cars than most people would ever drive in a lifetime due to his long expeditions, and he explained that he even wore out his old Volvo, a feat that had many a trainer and jockey in awe.
“I’ve had about 50 cars, maybe more in a period of 40 years and in that Volvo, I probably drove more than 500,000 kilometres and hit 12 kangaroos,” Heagney laughed.
“I had an old A6 Audi that needed a litre of fuel a day at the end there after I wore it out. I have just done a lot of driving.”
As far as the future and what it holds, Heagney had no plans on slowing down, and while opportunities were there for him to ride, he would be in the saddle.
“I’m just going to keep riding until I can’t get rides, I suppose,” Heagney laughed.