ROSSCARBERY jockey Brian Hayes is enjoying a terrific campaign and registered his 21st winner of the season earlier this week.
The West Cork native has established himself as one of the top riders in the game and deputised for the injured Champion Jockey Paul Townend with a smooth victory aboard the Willie Mullins trained Frere Tuck in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown last Sunday. Earlier on that card Hayes also took the ride in the Grade 1 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle aboard the Joe Donnelly owned and Willie Mullins trained Ganapathi who finished runner-up to Dreal Deal.
While reflecting on the season so far Brian Hayes is just grateful to be getting opportunites and riding winners. He has been riding at the top table this season and is widely regarded as one of the great gentlemen of our sport.
“It’s my best season so far with over 20 winners so I’m just very grateful to all the trainers supporting me. We have another few months left in the season yet with all the major festivals including Cheltenham, Fairyhouse and Punchestown.
"Obviously, I ride plenty of horses for Emmet Mullins, the Bowe family, Willie Mullins and people like James Dullea and Mick Winters down here in Cork. I’ve spent a lot time over the years with James down in Bandon while I’ve ridden plenty of horses for Mick over the years including Sayce Gold this season. She is a very good mare and will win plenty of races going forward.
"They are two terrific trainers who work night and day with their horses, and it tells with the great results they get on the track.”
Riding winners is the bread and butter for every jockey but getting on top class horses in Grade 1 races can propel a rider to the next level. Hayes might have that horse with the exciting Cape Gentleman who looked well above average back in early December.
"There is no doubt he looks very good. He won his maiden comfortably and impressed a lot of people at Punchestown. Obviously, Emmett will decide where we go next, but the horse is entered in the Dublin Racing Festival which is only around the corner.
"We fancied him to run well the last day, but we didn’t expect him to go as well as that. His victory in the Cesarewitch at the Curragh was impressive so hopefully he can stay sound.
"There can be plenty of hype about horses every day of the week, but this lad impressed everyone by the way he jumped and travelled. He’s an exciting horse alright. But I’m working all over the place so that keeps me distracted from individual horses.
“I’m certainly juggling things a bit and ride out for plenty of trainers. Usually, I’m three mornings a week at Willie’s (Mullins) and every afternoon is with Michael Bowe. As long as I can get to Michael before dark he doesn’t mind.
"The Bowes train in Freshford which is in County Kilkenny and they have their own way of doing things. They had great horses like Solerina and Limestone Lad so it’s a brilliant place to ride out and is a very relaxing place. We tip away at our own pace and Michael is a great man to work for.”
During the hectic Christmas racing it can be difficult for jockeys to get home, but Hayes managed a flying visit to West Cork soil.
"I rode out a few lots for James Dullea on Christmas morning and actually rode a winner for him on St Stephen's Day aboard Chalky White at Limerick. I’m friendly with the lads that own him Richard Giles and Frank Ormond who is actually a Ross man.
"So, winning for those lads was certainly that extra bit special. He won nicely and a winner during these tough times for everyone was a great thrill.
“It was only when I got back down home for Christmas that I appreciated how racing was entertaining people during this latest lockdown. My mother was saying that only for the racing there was very little live sport going on.
"I suppose we are in our own little bubble and racing everyday but It was fantastic that racing was kept going. Around 30,000 people are linked to the industry and it keeps plenty of small trainers going in rural Ireland.
"Dr Jennifer Pugh has done an incredible job keeping everyone safe and the protocols are so very strict. There are no exceptions for anyone and there has been no Covid cases which is great. Dr Pugh is ringing or texting every day and she has managed the whole thing superbly.”
As the national hunt season enters the business end keep an eye out for Brian Hayes. He has made steady progress building up relationships with some of the biggest trainers in the game. Having worked so hard to get there he is relishing the months ahead and hoping for a bit of luck along the way.
“Avoiding injury is the most important thing for any jockey especially with all the big festivals around the corner. It’s a funny ole game this and sometimes opportunites arise unexpectedly and you must grab them with both hands. Riding winners is what keeps us ticking over while also keeping trainers happy. Fingers crossed for the rest of the season.”