Jo McKinnon Column

‘I was hooked and thought I have got to get a job here. Two years later I was riding him trackwork’

On a cold, dark winter morning at Flemington some 20 years ago, I had my first foray into reporting on trackwork.

I was a cadet journalist working on the racing round for the Herald Sun and was sent to fill in for one of the senior writers for the newspaper, Tony Meany. 

My only instruction was to try my best to sniff out a story that might be worthy of running in the afternoon edition. Being the off season and with most horses worth writing about enjoying the warmer climes of Queensland competing in the carnival there, it was a tough task for someone as green as me. 

I stared through the thick fog and all I could hear was the heavy breathing and hooves of horses as they galloped past me performing their routine workouts, and men huddled in and around a small wooden tower, stopwatches dangling from their necks. Eyes fixed on their horses; they said very little.

I had been told to seek out a bloke by the name of Gary Fennessy who worked as foreman for the Hayes stable and that he should be able to share enough insight for me to craft a story from.

Much to my relief, I found him. His calm and kind demeanour immediately eased my nerves.  

“I can remember your first day at the track,” recalled Fennessy. “Tony Meany had rung me the night before and said there’s a young girl coming out, can you be nice to her. And I saidI’m always nice.”

From that day on, ‘Bim’ as he’s fondly known around the racing traps, was always a reliable source of information on my reporting missions and in his own steady way taught me so much about racehorses. Back then, women were a novelty in racing and sports media, but never once did he patronise or make me feel unwelcome in the male domain that it was. 

This week, Lindsay Park Racing recognised an incredible 55 years of service that Fennessy has clocked up in the famous thoroughbred empire. 

In a tweet they said: “55 years and still going strong…we are so fortunate to have his generational experience and knowledge in our team. Thank you, Bim!”

The milestone came as something of a surprise to the man himself, who said: “I had no idea how long it had been, and they said you realise you have clocked up something like 20,000 days and I said oh well, I just keep plugging along.”

Fennessy grew up in Port Melbourne and left school at 14 years of age. As a teenager he liked horses and regularly rode ponies on the beach at Williamstown. It was during that time a racehorse by the name of Fileur, who ran second to Rain Lover in the 1968 Melbourne Cup, sparked his interest in thoroughbreds. 

“The first horse I remember was Fileur. He was a big, strong thing and a great weight-for-age horse. I went to the races and saw him, and I was hooked and then I thought I have got to get a job here. Two years later I was riding him trackwork.”

At the age of 15 Fennessy started working as a strapper for CS Hayes in his Melbourne stable. He then went across to South Australia and spent 15 years working for the original Lindsay Park operation in the Barossa.

“When Kevin Ryan left his post as foreman in Melbourne, CS said to me do you want to go there and be in charge and that was it, I was there for the next 40 years.”

After two decades he became part of the Hayes family. 

“CS was always right but he was a very good boss. He was the sort of fella that would listen to anyone and talk to anyone. He was a very genuine boss you couldn’t get a better one. Everyone liked CS. Mrs Hayes was a wonderful person, she always worried about you and cared about you, they were great people.” 

During the course of that journey Fennessy came into contact with many great horses including Jeune, At Talaq, Primacy, Miss Finland and the list goes on. The one horse he remembers most fondly is 1990 Japan Cup winner Better Loosen Up.

“He went to Japan and even though we thought he could win you still only dream of those things and when he won, we were in a state of shock for a while.”

Now 72, Fennessy enjoys a quieter life than those heady days and two years ago took up a role with Lindsay Park at Euroa. 

“These days I mainly watch trackwork and check them after their work and make sure they are ok.”

While he’s too humble to say it, it’s fair to say that he also plays a huge role behind the scenes guiding and mentoring Ben and JD Hayes. “I get along very well with Ben and JD. They are doing a great job,” he said.

“They are very good workers. They have been brought up in private schools, but they are always putting in and cleaning boxes and things like that. They are not scared of work, and they are all down to earth and love their sports.”

That strong work ethic has always run in the Hayes family, and there’s little doubt that Fennessy has also had a major influence on the development of their successful careers. Afterall, 55 years of experience is well worth listening to.


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