THE interview is agreed, just to decide on a time and venue.
“You’re probably racing at Sligo tomorrow.”
“No, I’m suspended.”
It says much about Chris Hayes, and the arc of his development as a person and jockey in the past decade, that he does not view himself a victim of the new whip rule. Rather than rail against the authorities, he has set about self-improvement.
It is a long way from the cockiness that Hayes recognises in his younger identity and that was shocked out of him by the loss of his retainer with Lady O’Reilly. For a short while, rides were at a premium but he absorbed the lessons, developed a prodigious workrate and became one of the most consistent riders on the Irish circuit.
Now, he is the go-to man for Dermot Weld, Fozzy Stack and, of course, long-time ally Kevin Prendergast, hoping to add to his tally of classic winners in what could be a monumental week but is completely grounded.
Getting two separate suspensions at Gowran Park for nine strikes (anything above eight triggers an inquiry) was unfortunate. When Tarnawa returned from winning the Blue Wind Stakes with a mark a few days later, an automatic referral to IHRB headquarters for a fourth whip transgression within a 12-month period resulted.
That the referrals committee gave him the minimum six-day suspension on Thursday indicated the low-end scale of his misdemeanours, but Hayes wants to iron out any kinks.
“The rules are the rules. They are there in black and white. I broke them. The most important thing is I try and learn from it. I was one over stupidly twice on the same day. I made a few phone calls to a few senior riders getting a bit of advice, and followed that advice.
“Then I ended up marking (Tarnawa) with four slaps at Naas. Of course you get frustrated but you have to move on and learn from it. Try and prevent it from happening it again.
“The first thing I did after that was I started at the source, got two new whips. I had a good look at my action and whip use. Watched a good few videos of Mick Kinane, Pat Smullen and Ryan Moore because they were never whip jockeys… and I am getting good advice from the senior riders.”
It has been the only blip in a tremendous season, highlighted by the new link with Weld. The call came in February, without any commitment other than the provision of opportunities if he was willing to come into Rosewell House and work. They hit the ground running and Hayes is feeling the benefits in more ways than just the winners’ column.
“Every yard I have gone to they have all given me something different. If I can use a word to describe what I got when I went into Fozzy’s, I would have thought it sharpened me up. Fozzy works on the clock. My work riding improved, my judgement improved.
“If I was to use a word about going into Rosewell, it’s confidence. The confidence is instilled to you. There is no pressure. You are never doubted. That is why Pat and Mick were as good as they were. He poured the confidence into them. You know he is there when you come back in.
“It is hard to describe. I am only there two and a half months and it is not as if we have free-flowing conversations and I am in there seven days a week, and I am first jockey. I am in there one day a week to ride work. He has given me the opportunities. It is probably what I needed at this time in my career.
“It is not as if he has actually said any words or a big long debriefing. When you walk out there is no ‘you have be here or there’. It is more natural. It is an air of confidence more than anything else.”
The schedule is a packed one, taking in Stack, Weld, as well as the likes of Bill Farrell, Aidan Howard and his brother Patrick but with all the demands and through the peaks and troughs of the Shanagolden man’s career, there has always been Prendergast.
Search For A Song and Chris Hayes winning the Group 1 Comer Group International Irish St Leger. (Photo Healy Racing)
Hayes is 32 in August. His boss since he decamped to Friarstown from RACE half a lifetime ago will be 87 the previous month.
“I get on really well with him. Even when I was an apprentice I got on with him. If you got beaten on one you should have won on he would let you know. He lets you know what he thinks. He will ask you what you think. You will come up with a plan. Nine times out of 10 you will do it his way because he is around longer than I am alive so I am hardly going to doubt or question him.
“He could ring me this evening and talk about Madhmoon’s work. He would ask me about the entries for the weekend. You could be on the phone for half an hour.
It was the worst season I had but the best season. I got such a kick up the arse and a wake-up call.
“That is the reason I describe him as a grandfather figure because everything is relaxed. He talks to you like he would to anyone. That is why owners stick with him. Not only because of his ability to train but because everything is black and white. You are told the truth.”
Prendergast was loyal to his young pilot when he lost the Lady O’Reilly job in 2011. Hayes now acknowledges that he was lounging in a deck chair, as a three-time champion apprentice with a major gig. The severed connection shook him out of his complacency. He considered going to England but Prendergast promised to do his best for him and along with agent Dave Keena, steered him in the direction of the trainer’s nephew Patrick, which helped keep his head above water.
“I felt like I was running away if I left. Everything was flying and it was the first speed ramp I had met. I felt, ‘if I don’t go over this now I will forever regret it. I am just running across the water and hoping I will get back riding winners again.’ I felt I had to improve it. That is what I stayed.
“I rode in the Guineas for him that year, for Lady O’Reilly ironically. It was the worst season I had but the best season. I got such a kick up the arse and a wake-up call.”
He travelled “the length and breadth of the country”, grafting, desperate to show that he did not consider himself above anyone or any horse. But throughout it all, though Declan McDonogh was number one, he could rely on Prendergast.
They combined for his first Group 1 triumph with La Collina in the Matron Stakes in September 2013 and a week later, he registered his first classic success on Voleuse Des Coeurs in the Irish St Leger. That was very significant, in that the daughter of Teofilo was owned by Lady O’Reilly and trained by Weld, who would come calling five and a half years later.
“Every ride I am grateful and thankful for it. Joel Rosario said it when he won on Animal Kingdom in Dubai (2013) and they changed jockeys for Royal Ascot. He said, ‘I had a one-race contract and I’ve fulfilled my contract.’ That’s the way I have looked at it. They owe me nothing and I owe them nothing.
“They mightn’t want you today on a particular horse but they might want you tomorrow on a different horse. You can never fall out with anyone or take anything for granted. Just be grateful for what you get and take whatever chances you can. At least you will be able to say to yourself I gave it a go. I was good enough or I wasn’t.
“I would never get ahead of myself now. I would never take anything for granted. I would never look at entries and say, ‘I will definitely be riding that.’ There’s always a chance you’ll get jocked off.”
This is why he is reticent about saying too much about Tarnawa in the Oaks at Epsom on Friday, even though he has ridden her three times this term and been victorious twice. He knows the dangers of presumptuousness.
“She’s an improving filly. She’s a good filly. I think she could win around there. I’d love to ride her but I don’t know if I will is the honest answer.”
Hayes is certain to be on Madhmoon in the Derby the following day of course.
“My only concern was would he be quick enough for the undulations on fast ground. He was but we were drawn on the wrong side. All the pace was the other side. In a straight line I never worry where I am drawn, I just want to be drawn near pace. I was drawn against horses that are stepping up in trip. They are going to be ridden conservatively, nobody is going to gun and go forward. And anything that had ran over the longer distance or was a proven miler was high, bar me. We had never ridden our fella forward so that was never going to be an option. We always had the Derby in mind."
So he looks made for 10 furlongs, while showing enough speed to win over a mile. Can he then do the business over 12? Nobody knows but Hayes, who will pick the brains of Kinane and Smullen about Epsom, having only ridden in the Dash previously, believes Madhmoon is suited to the track.
He will prepare assiduously in terms of accumulating knowledge, studying the opposition and drawing up a plan with Prendergast and owner Sheikh Hamdan, the pair of sages he combined with to win the Irish 2000 Guineas on Awtaad.
The preparation goes deeper though. The elite are always chasing another 1%. At the beginning of 2017, he started going to the gym classes funded by HRI as part of the Jockey Pathway. Hayes is fortunate in that he has never had to battle with the scales but had been wary of building muscle. But as usual, once educated, he admitted the error of his ways and is now a disciple.
“I found Wayne (Middleton) massive. When I went to Dubai last year he gave me a programme that I could do for the four months that I was out there. Any issues, I could give him a call. He would send you on a little video so you know what you are supposed to be doing.
“The Pathway did a cooking class last year and I found that very good. They have a DEXA scanner down there (in RACE). They are improving it every year. I have used everything down there. It’s top class.”
Given the way Hayes is performing right now, one suspects that feeling may be mutual.
Chris Hayes after winning the Irish St Leger in 2013 / Healy Racing