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“Going to America was the best thing I’ve done in my career” – Apprentice Tyler Heard wants to make his US experience special | Topics: Tyler Heard, John & Thady Gosden, Keeneland

Tyler Heard: linked to the strong John & Thady Gosden stable since his return to Great Britain. Photo: Mark Cranham / focusonracing.com

Interview with a 22-year-old rider who flourished during his ten-month stay in Kentucky before returning home to rebuild his career in the UK

EN: It is not for nothing that America is known as the land of unlimited opportunities and it is fair to say that jockey Tyler Heard took full advantage of his trip there last year.

It would probably not be entirely accurate to describe Heard as a “struggling apprentice” when he left Britain for Kentucky, because, in his own words, things were “not exactly going brilliantly.”Tyler Heard:

So on January 1st last year, Heard flew to the USA with his girlfriend and fellow rider Grace McEntee for ten months, where he produced 22 winners (plus 21 runners-up and 19 third-place finishes) in 175 rides and pocketed prize money of $768,908, which dwarfed his previous annual earnings in the UK.

Heard, who lives “five minutes” from Keeneland in Lexington, has been in top form at his local track and has also struck at the Horseshoe Indianapolis, Belterra Park in Cincinnati, Turfway Park in northern Kentucky and Charles Town, not far from Washington DC.

There was also a win at Churchill Downs, but Heard’s biggest U.S. victory came when Baytown Chatterbox, trained by McEntee’s uncle Paul, scored a 60-1 upset in a $150,000 juvenile race at Ellis Park in August.

In fact, one might have drawn comparisons with Adam Beschizza, a talented British weightlifter whose career took off across the pond.

While Beschizza stayed, Heard came home and is now rebuilding his profile in the UK as part of the John & Thady Gosden team.

Success in any weather: Tyler Heard scores points on Princess In Rome (left) at Lingfield Park. Photo: Mark Cranham / focusonracing.comHowever, things might have turned out differently if he had been a few pounds heavier.

“I wanted to be a hurdle jockey”

“I probably wanted to be a steeplechase jockey,” says the 22-year-old, whose father Colin competed in point-to-point racing before training in the field. Older brother Liam was once part of Paul Nicholls’ all-conquering National Hunt operation.

Heard explains: “I wanted to do point-to-point racing when I was 16, but my dad didn’t think it was a good idea and didn’t want me to get injured, especially because I was light enough to ride on the flat.”

Heard is from Cornwall and as a 16-year-old worked in Lambourn for trainer Richard Hughes, a three-time champion jockey who is unrivalled in terms of skill in the saddle.

“It was great to learn from ‘Hughesie’ and to race with him. He was fantastic to watch,” he adds. “It was great to talk to him after the races and I probably learned 90 percent of what I know from him. I wouldn’t have wanted to start anywhere else.”

That winning feeling: Tyler Heard with Princess In Rome in the winners' enclosure at Lingfield. Photo: Mark Cranham / focusonracing.comThe laid-back Heard had a promising start to life as an apprentice jockey with 17 wins in the pandemic-hit 2020 and 27 wins the following season, but he wouldn’t be the first in his industry to falter after a promising start.

In 2022, there were only 12 winners, and by that time Heard was already casting admiring glances across the Atlantic.

“It was clear from the start that it would be America because Grace has three uncles there, including one, Paul, who trains in Kentucky while her brother was also there at the time,” he says. “That meant we had help getting started and it was easier to settle in.”

January 1, 2023 is a date Heard remembers well, and it’s not because he had a hangover from hell. “We flew out that day, and flying to America was something I wanted to do since I was a kid, when I had no obligations at home,” he recalls.

“It didn’t go terribly”

“It’s not like I was forced to go there and things weren’t terrible in the UK, but they weren’t exactly brilliant either.”

Although Heard had never been to the United States before, he did not expect a major culture shock in terms of lifestyle and career.
“I loved it,” he says. “You heard they did it in the morning, so you expected to be busy and ride maybe 14 horses, whereas here I ride maybe three or four in the morning.”

“If you sit on a different horse every 15 minutes and can ride them easily, you get a lot more done. You get to know the horses better and don’t miss any because you might gallop the same horse twice a week, which I enjoyed.”

He talks in detail about his morning routine: “The way they train is different. You can do half a mile in a flash and every effort is a good effort. You really learn what the horses can do, whereas here at home you can ride a horse that then surprises you on the track.”

“They know exactly what they have”

“In America, they usually know exactly what they have before they even walk,” he continues. “The work is quicker and sometimes you take the reins off them, which is something you don’t often do in Britain. There they stretched out.”

The no-nonsense approach to galloping on the racecourse at his temporary home was also welcomed. “You don’t hear many bad luck stories because the races are usually run for real,” Heard explains, and would like to thank trainers John Ennis and Anna Meah (and her husband David) for their hospitality.

“You gallop well, there’s usually room and you rarely have bad luck. Usually the best horse wins. I had a great time.”
While a stint in California has shaped Gosden Senior’s career, Heard is not sure his own experience in the US secured him a job with the top team when he returned to the UK at the end of last year.
“Nothing was mentioned,” he says, before revealing the most important findings from his time.

“Pace and speed were important things and I learned a lot about that, as well as how to keep horses going and get them to change the lead, while at the same time getting me fit with a view to riding a finish.

“In the UK there are lots of different styles – some better than others – whereas here it’s more balanced and neat. I think that’s helped me in my comeback; I look much more toned.

“It was just from watching other riders and trying to copy them, but it took a lot of adjustment. We were there for ten months and I probably only started to look more American towards the end. People told me I looked better, neater and more groomed when I went over. So, combined with tactics and speed, it definitely improved me.”

“You can earn a lot of money”

Without going into the exact dollars and cents, it also improved Heard’s bank balance. “You can make a lot of money,” he continues.

“If I were to go again, I would do it differently. We wanted to ride in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, but next time I would probably try to settle on one track, hopefully get more rides and keep costs down because we were on the road a lot and trying to ride everywhere.

“The prize money is great, even at the lower tracks where you have smaller races for $20,000. If you do it right, you can make money out of it, and I came out better than I went in, so to speak.”

Heard has also been impressed by the way trainers and jockeys in the US are approaching the sport – “it’s much easier and more accessible” – and he is predictably positive, so much so that he has long considered returning to the UK.

“It was worth it,” he reflects. “We went there with an open mind and didn’t know how long we would stay. There were no expectations, but it was a successful trip.”

“It did me a lot of good, and if anyone here asks me if I want to go, I tell them to do it.

“I came back to give myself a second chance in this country and see how things go. The option to go back is there and it took some thinking to come back. It was not an easy decision.

“I could have happily stayed because I enjoyed it so much and was so good, but I came back and ended up with the Gosdens and they were very good.”

Heard’s immediate goal is to ride the handful of winners needed to lose his claim, and he might leave the passport in his top drawer – at least for now.

“I’m in a better position now than when I went to America,” he says. “Nothing happens overnight, but I feel like my riding is better quality than it was two years ago. Whether that’s because of the connection with Gosden or whether people see an improvement in my riding, I don’t know, but I’m in a better position.”

“I suspect I’ll be in the UK next year because that’s how things have gone with the Gosdens, they’ve given me a few chances and I want to see how that goes.”

When asked where he sees himself in five years, Heard replies: “Oh, I don’t know, I have no idea. I could be here or there, we’ll see, but going to America was the best thing I’ve done in my career.”

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