Craig Hayes is the dairy farmer and harness trainer from Stowport, which is a place not many people have heard of who was put on the map recently when he reached a career high when his star pacer Scooterwillrev was able to deliver his finest achievement as a trainer by winning the Ladbrokes Easter Cup.
The early days
In his younger years Craig had no interest at all in horses as his family ran their dairy farm and it was hard back in the day, as Craig would be working alongside his late father daily but the love they had together was sport.
Craig was a very accomplished footballer in his younger years playing over 160 senior games for his beloved Burnie Football Club and that would never have happened if it wasn’t for his family’s support.
“It would never have happened if it wasn’t for dad being there to run me around to all of my training nights and games as a teenager as you could imagine back in the late 1970’s it wasn’t easy to get around when living up in the bush and that’s something I will forever be grateful for,” recalled Craig Hayes.
“My father taught me what work ethic was all about and the saying goes the harder you work the more successful you are in life and I’ve always had those words in my mind as that set the blueprint for myself and Tania’s successes in business and life,” added Craig referencing his wife Tania.
Craig’s mother is still around at the age of 93 and she was independent in life and active up until last year when she had to be moved into a lovely nursing home close by. Craig’s mother’s one request was to make sure she had Sky Channel in her room so she could watch the horse racing as she has a passion for the horses that Craig trains and when Scooterwillrev won the Cup I’m sure all the residents heard her cheering him home.
The first horse Craig ever trained was named after his mother and she was a little beauty called Marjy Mary who won nine races including a brave third in the Tasmanian Oaks in 2007.
Heading back to where it all began it was a mare called Gallavance that Craig acquired from the trotting weekly with close friends Cushy Summers and Grant Dunham. She was a 3YO filly but never got to the races despite showing plenty of ability.
“Just before we were going to trial her, she did a tendon which was devastating for us, I was the only one that had any land, so the boys decided to let me buy them out as they didn’t know what to do with her,” said Craig Hayes on the filly who was foaled in September 1997.
Cushy Summers was the one that pushed Craig to start training on his own back in the late 1990’s as his football career was coming to an end. Craig thought he needed something to keep busy so with the urgings from a few mates, fellow trainers, and Tania he decided to give it a shot.
Gallavance turned out to be a broodmare gem for Craig and his wife Tania as from the seven foals that she has gotten to the races all of them have won multiple races.
No Third Party was the first of those who won eight races and placed on 10 occasions from 35 starts.
Mister Tehaych was the best of them winning over $113,000 in prizemoney. He was a good youngster winning a couple of feature races early including the Golden Slipper before returning as a 3YO to take out the Prince of Pace. He was driven by champion reinsman Gareth Rattray in 14 of his 18 wins with his last win coming in February 2012 with Craig in the gig beating a horse close to my heart in Our Sir Jeckyl.
Mister Tehaych was a favourite of Craig, named after his late father Trevor Herbert Hayes.
Mister Sumna was next to come along and he was as gifted as any pacer Craig put a bridle on, but injuries and manners stopped him from getting to the heights he should have although he still was able win to win 11 out of his 36 starts.
Sumna won six out of eight starts between April 2013 and January 2014 so that showed the ability he had but he was becoming a very frustrating horse for Craig, so he decided to lease him to some close mates and send him interstate where he was able to win two races at Melton under the care of Dean Braun before returning back to Tasmania where he had a handful of starts before being retired.
The next on the list will end up being the best of all, a mare named after his wife, Tania Maree.
Tania Maree never finished further back than fifth in her brief career that netted over $44,000 in prizemoney winning nine of her 16 starts.
“We decided to retire her and breed some foals as she was getting on a tough mark with her good record,” said Craig about the mare who last raced in June 2014.
Tania Maree has produced two horses to the races, the first being Mister Gently who has won six from 12 starts and gave Craig and Tania a huge thrill when he recently won their hometown Burnie Cup and there would have been plenty of beverages drank on track that night.
Then came along a Heston Blue Chip filly called Melnrowley who is named after Craig’s daughter Mel and raced with a longtime family friend in Mark Semmens.
She had her first start in Devonport in February 2020 and showed above average ability winning easily with Craig taking the reins. Craig then decided to put her out and set her for the feature 2YO fillies race later in the season. She was beaten first-up in the Blue Bonnet but wasn’t disappointed as she made up plenty of ground.
But the next six weeks saw her putting her hand up as one of the better two-year-old fillies Tasmania have produced by making it a clean sweep of the two feature juvenile races by winning the heat and final of the Sweepstakes and then going onto claim the big one, the $50,000 Evicus Final where she put up a huge performance rating a slick 1:57.6 to run her rivals off their legs.
Jeanette Barry was named after Craig’s sister and her husband and though she never got to the heights Craig thought she would, she still has won three races from 12 starts.
Brookwillrock has won two from nine but did run second in the Sweepstakes Final as a 2YO and is named after Craig and Tania’s daughter.
The Will Rev connection
Craig’s local veggie man Mick Filleul ask him to train a horse who he bought from New Zealand.
“It was a big bloody thing, but I decided to give him a go and as time went, he showed enough ability that would win a few races,” explained Craig about the horse named Mick Armalive who first raced in Launceston in 2010 but a tendon injury brought him unstuck and he was eventually retired after just two career starts.
Mick loved the horse and wasn’t afraid to put his hand in his pocket if the right horse came along.
Mick and a couple of mates Andy Williams (Will) and Anthony Cocks (Rev) asked Melbourne horseman David Miles to pick a youngster out for them at the Yearling Sales, he was broken in by Leigh Miles then sent across to Tasmania.
“Mick said he need a favour which was to give this youngster a couple of weeks work and tell him what I thought,” explained Craig who had such an opinion of the youngster than he and a mate bought into the horse that would become Mickwillrev winning 13 out of his 27 starts.
It was after the success with Mickwillrev that Craig and his mates all decided to go to the sales and buy a yearling and that’s were the Scooter story starts.
Scooterwillrev was purchased at the Melbourne Yearling Sales back in 2014 for $40,000.
“I was lucky enough to be with the fellas on the day, but I can remember vividly one of the ownership group saying we have to pay GST on this horse so that’s another $4,000 and he wasn’t happy about that but looking back I’m sure he hasn’t worried about that again,” laughed Craig about the original purchase of Scooterwillrev.
One lucky owner in Scooterwillrev was Scott Stagg who has been around the harness racing industry longer than most and he was asked if he would he be interested in taking a share and that’s where the Scooter name came from as that is Scott’s nickname.
Scooter was a star from day one winning his first six starts before Craig decided to have a crack at the 2YO Breeders Crown Series as he wasn’t eligible for the Tasbred Series back home. He qualified for the final by finishing eighth, but it was a good experience and Craig brought him back and gave him a good spell before setting him for the Tasmanian Derby.
He resumed with a first-up win in Burnie and went on to win another four in succession with the Derby being his next assignment so after the master Gavin Lang jumped on board for his latest win it was an easy decision to leave him on for the big one. Of course, Lang did what ‘Group One Gav’ always does by winning big races and it was by far and away Craig’s biggest success as a trainer but what was more special was having the master reinsman in the gig which is something that Craig will always cherish.
That was the start of a great relationship as Craig set Scooter for the 3YO Vicbred Series where he ran second in the heat before finishing seventh in the final won by Jilliby Kung Fu.
Scooter has won plenty of races since then but has also had plenty of issues, so Craig decided to send him up to Sydney.
“Nothing went right in Sydney, so we brought him back home to set him for the 2020 Easter Cup to try to go one better than the previous year,” said Craig referring to Scooterwillrev’s 2019 Easter Cup where he ran second to Franco Tristan which was trained and driven by Gavin Lang.
Unfortunately for Craig the 2020 Easter Cup was never run in Tasmania due to the shutdown of racing on 1 April 2020 due to COVID-19.
But fast forward 12 months to the 2021 Easter Cup and Scooter was first-up in the heat just six days earlier but Craig knew he had his star back to his top, so he was more than happy to go into the series off a break.
Scooter showed that he was going to be a player in the final with a game second in his heat and Craig knew he would come on from that outing.
He drew perfectly in the Final as he always steps safely and when he lobbed on top and the favourite Willie Go West missed away, driver Gareth Rattray decided to hold the lead and that was the winning move as he dictated the tempo of the race and kept his main danger in the run to his outside knowing that Scooter can dash a very quick half and that’s what he did coming home in 56 seconds to hold of a gallant Ryley Major who came off the 20m handicap with the outsider Isaac running third.
The win was an emotional one for Craig who had always dreamed of winning the Easter Cup since he first started training horses.
“He’s just a beautiful natured animal who has always been a pleasure to work with and is much more than a horse he is my mate,” Craig said who added that to win with Gareth in the sulky and such a great group of owners made it even more special.
“I set him for this race, and I knew that he would not let me down but to see all the stars align on Easter Saturday is something that I will never forget, and it will go down as my greatest sporting achievement of all time.”
Craig’s training operation is a boutique setup with family and a group of close personal friends that he trains and races horses with. He has had a lot of success over many years in doing that which also includes breeding his own horses and buying a few from the yearling sales in Melbourne for his loyal client base.
Craig loved his football career at Burnie but never got to reach the pinnacle as the closest he got to winning a premiership was being runners up with East Devonport back in the eighties.
“In more recent times I have enjoyed watching my son Brayden playing football and I don’t like to say it, but he does have a bit more ability than myself back in the day,” laughed Craig referring to his son’s football ability.
“It’s good to see Brayden back living up at Burnie after spending time down south where he was doing his apprenticeship to become an electrician. He has showed interest in the harness racing game so im hoping he will follow in my tracks and give it a crack when his sporting commitments are over as he does hold a stablehands licence and he loves coming to the races and helping out when he has time,” added Craig.
Brayden Hayes created a bit of infamy for himself when he tweeted during a Big Bash match that he would run from Hobart to Burnie in his undies for charity if the Melbourne Renegades lost a match, they were playing in.
That was back in early 2017 and when Brayden said that he will be honouring what he said he would do Craig was thinking there is no way he could run the 325 kilometres in eight days.
But he had lots of support from family and friends and raised money for a family in need which was an amazing effort by him, and Craig admired his courage and mental toughness to not let anyone down.
Craig and Tania have two daughters, Brooke and Melanie, who both also live locally with Melanie having two sons Jaxon and Eli.
“I must say nan and pop love having them around the farm and the horses as it’s a great environment to be around as you never know one day in the future they may takeover the farm,” said the proud grandfather Craig.
Brooke is the eldest and is a radiographer and has a great fiancé by her side which is great to see and let’s hope the mare Brookwillrock can throw a nice foal in coming years.
Craig says he was lucky 36 years ago when he met a lovely young woman named Tania who later became his wife and biggest supporter.
“She has always been by my side and always backed me in everything I have wanted to do from farming with the cattle and vegies, through my football and later in life as a harness racing trainer so without Tania I have no doubt I would have never achieved what I have in life to date,” said Craig.
Tania on the other hand is quick to deflect some of the credit to her husband for his success.
“He has always given his all to everything he has done in his life, we have worked hard to get to where we are now and raising our three children. His dedication to everything he has pursued and the success he has achieved is something that I admire so much about him and why I love him so much,” Tania Hayes said.
“He also has a lot more patience with his horses than what he has with the human race,” laughed Tania.
It was only fitting to get a few words from Hall of Fame reinsman Gareth Rattray about his association with Craig.
“I’ve driven for Hayesy for many years and the few things that standout about him is his ability to have his horses ready to win when they go to the races which makes my job a lot easier.
“He is as good as any conditioner of horses that I have seen, and he is great to drive for as he never has too much to say about tactics.
“Mister Tehaych was a good horse early for us and I have driven many nice horses for Craig and now its come full circle with Scooterwillrev winning the Easter Cup,” said the reinsman who recently drove his 1,400 winner in Australia.
The final word
For Craig Hayes, he doesn’t see too much changing in the short term, it will be the same as it is now running over 500 head of cattle each day and training his small team of horses.
It shows what a competitor Craig is that he decided to take out his driver’s licence at the ripe old age of 50, but he was quick to show that he could match it with his peers as he drove plenty of winners with the two highlights being the Novice Drivers Title in his first year of driving and taking out his hometown Cup on the Geoff Smith-trained Truly Blissful.
Craig’s first winning drive was on a horse named On the Deuce in December 2010 in Burnie.
Craig has shown over his time in harness racing that he is a trainer that always has to be respected and I have no doubt he is one of the best conditioners of a Standardbred in the state and that shone through with Scooterwillrev winning the 2021 Easter Cup.
He has the knowledge to place his horses where they are capable no matter what class they are and that is why his strike rate is second to none. He will only take horses to the races if he knows they’re ready to fire, so with breeding a few more foals in coming seasons he is sure to have a smart youngster on his hands for many years to come.