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‘It’s been killing me’: the inside story of David Hayes’ return to Hong Kong

David Hayes poses for photos at Sha Tin after being announced as a trainer for the 2020-21 season. Photos: Kenneth Chan

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David Hayes says he is happy to be “home” in Hong Kong – @cambodonut2

Rumours about Hayes returning to Sha Tin have been around for years but it wasn’t until early June that a phone call from the Jockey Club turned that idea into a reality.

Ever since he left Hong Kong in 2005 after a successful decade-long stint, Hayes made it clear he would like to come back – if the timing was right.

The seeds were first planted during the 2014-15 season when Hayes travelled Criterion for the Hong Kong Cup and QE II Cup and was talking to Jockey Club executive Bill Nader.

“I was asked if I was interested in coming back. We were just chatting informally, just to see how I was feeling,” Hayes said.

“I’d just got through the tough time in Australia building Lindsay Park and I really wanted to re-establish myself again. It was a bit early, I said it was just not the right time for me.

“I just said flippantly, maybe call me if John Size or John Moore retires, give me a year’s notice and I’d be very serious about it.

“We never really discussed it again, rumours were going wild – so much so I would come to Hong Kong and not go to the races because it would set everything going again.”

Fast-forward to early June and Jockey Club licensing committee secretary Steve Railton put in a call to Hayes, knowing a quality replacement was needed for Moore, who is being forced into compulsory retirement at the end of the 2019-20 season.

“When Steve called me it was the first time we’d discussed it since Criterion. It hadn’t been ongoing,” Hayes said.

“So when people were saying ‘Hong Kong, Hong Kong’, I was clearly saying ‘no, no, no – I haven’t been approached’. And I hadn’t been. They did approach me [three months ago] and it’s been killing me [having to keep it a secret].”

Hayes revealed it took all of “15 seconds” for he and wife Prue to decide they wanted to return. The next step was telling the family and working out how to move forward with Lindsay Park.

The challenge being that the Jockey Club demands discretion for these sort of appointments – there had to be a cone of silence.

“We had a family meeting and then I called Steve the next day,” said Hayes, who made sure everyone involved kept their lips sealed.

“The boys and Tom [Dabernig] felt they were ready, Tom especially, and I’m sure they are. I don’t think you blossom until you get your chance, and they’ve got their chance coming up.

“My key staff were terrific, I included them a couple of weeks ago, so they’ve been really good supporting me. And then I was able to get hold of some of my key owners before it broke and they were holding the story for me. So it was a big circle of trust everywhere, but it was very awkward.

“The Jockey Club had me under quite a good gag order to be quiet.”

Hayes was in Hong Kong later in June when he was told, unofficially, the position was his.

“I had a friend that passed away – [restaurateur] Wayne Parfitt – and I saw Steve and the guys and they said subject to the licensing committee ticking it off, they would recommend me to the committee for the job,” he said.

“And so I’ve been sitting really quietly – and it’s been a bit awkward.

“The rumour was getting stronger but it didn’t get out in the press until [Monday]. I got on the plane and I knew something was up because I had 47 missed calls.

“I actually didn’t apply until last Thursday. So when people kept asking me, I said I hadn’t applied. But I didn’t say I intended to apply.”

Thankfully, there is no need for any more secrecy.

Hayes got a big ovation from the local media at Tuesday’s announcement, while receiving plenty of well-wishes and requests for photos since then – his appointment a popular one. The man himself “genuinely very excited” about the opportunity.

For now though, it is business as usual in Australia before he makes his full-time return to Hong Kong in July – a huge weight lifted off his shoulders.

“I can have time to talk about my future, where I’m going, and where the future of Lindsay

Park is,” Hayes said.

“It shuts down the issue of who is here next, is he coming, isn’t he coming? My wife and I are relieved it’s out in the open now because I’m not good at keeping secrets.”

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