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Nothing can match 'thrill' of Cheltenham win for Hayes

 

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Noel Hayes (centre), of the Man About Town Syndicate, congratulates Bryan Cooper after his win aboard Our Conor in the Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in 2013. Photo: Patrick McCann

Noel Hayes (centre), of the Man About Town Syndicate, congratulates Bryan Cooper after his win aboard Our Conor in the Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in 2013. Photo: Patrick McCann

Racing Post

Noel Hayes (centre), of the Man About Town Syndicate, congratulates Bryan Cooper after his win aboard Our Conor in the Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in 2013. Photo: Patrick McCann

When Noel Hayes' father went to the Tattersalls Ireland sale in September 2010, little did he know that he would stumble upon a superstar like Our Conor for the paltry sum of €4,500.

Horses have made fools of many a man but Our Conor's "dream journey" would lead them all the way to the Cheltenham Festival and shed tears of joy from grown men.

Expectations were low for the Man About Town Syndicate - made up of six part-owners including Hayes - and he admits that Our Conor was "a social horse" which gave them a lot more than they had bargained for.

The Offaly native remembers the late Dessie Hughes saying 'Jaysus, he's going to make a fine hurdler' before his Curragh debut on the Flat as a three-year-old in May of 2012.

Hayes thought he was mad but Hughes had always given them "the right vibes" about the horse and he subsequently scored on his second start in a hot Roscommon maiden.

Our Conor still hadn't jumped a hurdle in public by the end of the summer but Hughes insisted that they wouldn't go to the well on the level as "it's a long time until March and we'll need him on the day".

He was a natural over hurdles and three successful starts over obstacles booked his Cheltenham ticket much to the amazement of connections.

The best was yet to come, however, as he turned the 2013 Triumph Hurdle into a procession with Bryan Cooper hardly moving a muscle as he cruised to a 15-length success.

"I cannot tell you the feeling that goes through your body as you stand watching this horse going around the bend, Bryan has his head between his legs and the only danger was in front of him. There's no feeling in the world like it," Hayes recalls.

"The joy it radiates is amazing. It's humbling to see other people's reactions and what it means to people who only had a fiver on it or didn't back it at all and just followed him.

"I went down to a funeral back home in Banagher a week after and went into the wake house to sympathise with the family, they all stood up to congratulate me and tell me 'ye gave him some send off'. That's the power of sport and racing."

The champagne was still flowing when the call from stockbroker Barry Connell came two days after the race with a view to purchasing Our Conor came and it was an offer they simply couldn't refuse.

Hayes, 37, would have been "doing handstands if he had won a Champion Hurdle" but fate cruelly intervened and he sadly met his demise at the third hurdle of the showpiece, a year after his greatest triumph.

Given Hayes' employment in the gambling industry - he has held high-powered roles with Paddy Power, Tote Ireland, Boylesports and BetBright - it was only natural he'd continue his involvement in racing.

This Saturday marks the official launch of Sunday - a venture set up alongside marketing guru Darren McGrath which aims to provide more people with access to learn about racing - and will see The Betting Forum, Ireland's Biggest Betting Seminar, take place at Leopardstown.

He worries about the "unhealthy relationship" between racing and gambling with "catchy marketing slogans telling you how you should be betting which prey on punters".

"We're not saying don't bet, we're saying if you're going to do it, do it with some level of intelligence and methodology, be smart about it. Do it a little bit smarter, do it a little better and understand exactly what you're doing and why," Hayes says.

Irish Independent