Ad From left to right: Will Hayes, Ben Hayes, Gary Fennessy and David Hayes celebrating the naming of Bim's Hut at Lindsay Park Euroa. (Image credit: Nora Looby)

Gary ‘Bim’ Fennessy: A legend of Lindsay Park

10 January 2024 Written by Danny Russell

He got his nickname from a circus elephant, thought Dulcify was an arrogant little track worker and says his favourite horse was Japan Cup winner Better Loosen Up. Gary ‘Bim’ Fennessy has had such an incredible life in the racing industry that Lindsay Park named its training tower after him as recognition of his 55 years with the Hayes family.

Before we get into the horses, I am intrigued by your nickname. How did ‘Bim’ come about?

It was from my dad in the early days. I was a big baby. I was over 10 pounds and there was an elephant in the circus in town and its name was Bim. My dad said to my mother, ‘He looks like an elephant this kid’. So that sort of stuck.

What first attracted you to the racing industry?

As a kid I was always going out to a place called Bulleen, it is on the outskirts of Melbourne, to ride ponies with some mates on weekends. Then I used to go to the races with my older brother. I sort of got hooked on races then.

Did you think about becoming a jockey?

No. In those days you had to be about 45kg to get an apprenticeship. I was always around 53-54. I would be alright now.

So how did you get a start at Lindsay Park?

I had an uncle that was always interested in horses and he sort of knew someone at the Hayes stable in Ascot Vale Road (Flemington). I went there and had a look at the place, and they said come back – and I’ve been there ever since. It was 1967, and we had eight horses in Melbourne at the time. I would have only been 15 or 16. I was from Port Melbourne. I spent about 12 months in Melbourne and then the boss (CS Hayes) said to me, “Come over to Adelaide, we need you over here”. So I went there and stayed there for about 15 years.

And then you came back to Victoria in the early 1980s?

CS asked me to come to Melbourne. He was changing his foreman in Melbourne and asked if I would like the job, so I took it.

Across the years, who are the best horses you have worked with?

The first horse I ever worked with, he came from Adelaide, was a horse called Fileur. He had a lot of tussles with Rain Lover. He ran second to Rain Lover in the Melbourne Cup (1968) and second in about half a dozen weight-for-age races and then a second in a Cox Plate. He was a very, very good horse. He was probably the first champion I got to be around. Then there were all the other ones like Dulcify, Better Loosen Up, Almaarad, At Talaq. Even right up to the modern day ones – Vega Magic, Redkirk Warrior and Miss Finland.

How much did you have to do with Dulcify?

Dulcify was a great horse. I was still at Lindsay Park in the Barossa then. I rode him in work quite a few times. Early days he didn’t feel like anything. He was a bit of an arrogant little horse that used to bolt a bit.

And then he came out and won his maiden at 100-1, didn’t he?

He was 300-1.

That’s some price. Did you back him?

No. We didn’t really know he was that good. We hadn’t trialled him or anything and he came out and blitzed them. He showed from that race on that he was very good (Dulcify won two Derbies, the Australian Cup and the 1979 Cox Plate).

Was he always a nuisance during trackwork?

He got a lot better. When he became a three-year-old he was quite reasonable. One of my old mates Terry used to ride him in trackwork and he straightened him out a fair bit.

Wasn’t Better Loosen Up a bit slack as well?

Ordinary track worker. He didn’t give any indication of his greatness until race day. When he got to race day, he turned it on. I actually did ride him during track work at Flemington. But I was the foreman in Melbourne at the time, so you had to watch all the horses rather than just the one. He was a very quiet horse; anyone could have ridden him.

Did you go to the Japan Cup (1990)?

Yeah, I went with him to Japan.

Did you back him?

No, you weren’t allowed to bet in those days – the strappers, the jockeys. Anyone in the JRA, you weren’t allowed to bet. The owners did, though. They won a fortune on him.

So are the stories true about the big collect?

I think they had to come back the next day to get the money because they didn’t have enough to pay them on race day.

Do you normally have a bet?

I used to when I was younger. But I don’t now, unless I am on holiday or something. I backed All American when he won at Flemington and beat So You Think (in the 1600m Group 1 Cantala Stakes at $41 in 2009). That’s probably one of the last bets I had, I think.

What about Mr Brightside? Are you surprised that he has become such a good horse? No, not really. I think from early days the boys were always very excited about him. He’s not a bad track worker. He doesn’t bludge. He’s one of the horses that kept improving. He’s capable of anything. Everyone looks at Mr Brightside now and mentions Better Loosen Up as very similar horses. Brightside doesn’t give you any real indication that he is a champ, but he is. You look at his last campaign, the last spring, and he was probably the best horse to come out of it. He should have won the Cox Plate.

Do you have a favourite moment in racing?

I think At Talaq winning the Melbourne Cup (1986) was unbelievable. He was just a great horse. He was an English horse, soft-boned and he pulled up very shin-sore after the Cup – as bad as any two year old. But he was just a freakish horse. I think if he had remained sound he would have been an all-time great. You know, around that time there was Bonecrusher and all them – he was as good as Bonecrusher.

So he must have won that Melbourne Cup on heart?

He was going to win by about five or six lengths, but it kicked in then and all of a sudden he started to pull up in the last 50 metres.

Do you have a favourite horse among them all?

Probably Better Loosen Up is my favourite. When we were in Japan, it was just unbelievable when he won. We knew he had a strong chance to win the race, but you are only dreaming then. When he won, it was just unbelievable. I was with David (Hayes) and (wife) Prue. CS (Hayes) was there. And we were just excited. We were all jumping around and carrying on. When you go overseas like that you are hoping and praying that the horse puts in. It’s a long way to go.

All smiles at 'Bim's Hut', pictured here with JD Hayes. (Image credit: Nora Looby)

What makes those champions good horses?

It’s hard to say. They are all different shapes and sizes and run over different distances. I think they have to be managed properly, and I think they just tell you they are good.

What is it like having started with CS Hayes and now working with his three grandsons (Ben, Will and JD)?

The three of them are pretty competitive sorts of people. They actually love racing which makes it a bit easier. They’re very good to work with. I have known them all their lives; they are very good kids. They are respectful, they were brought up well.

One of the boys was quoted saying that they turn to you whenever they don’t see eye-to-eye. Is that right?

It’s been the same for the whole family. When David and CS used to get into arguments, they used to say “what do you think?”, and I used to say, “leave me out of it”.

Is it the same response when the three boys argue?

We all get along very well. Benny is the calming influence over everyone – he makes most of the decisions.

What is the secret to being a good horseman?

I think it helps over the years working with champion horses – you can reflect back on them. And this property here (Lindsay Park) is one of the best properties you will ever see for training race horses. David has designed it unbelievably.

Do you talk to David much now?

A bit. But it is pretty full on in Hong Kong so you don’t like to annoy him. If you’ve got any problems, the boys work it out anyway.

What line from CS Hayes sticks with you?

He used to say, “The future belongs to those who plan for it”, and I think he was right. He was one of the best trainers I have ever seen over the years.

He was also good mates with Bob Hawke. Did you ever answer the phone to Bob?

I used to speak to him quite a bit. I used to live in a big old house in Flemington, and CS had a red phone in the office area. I used to say to my youngest daughter, “don’t answer the red phone”, because that’s what Robert Sangster and Bobby Hawke used to ring on. She was in there one day watching the TV, and the phone must have rang because the next minute she is screaming out to me, “Bob Hawke is on the phone”. When I got up there, and Bob was on the line, he said, “Gosh that kid’s got some lungs on her”.

Tell us about your family?

I have eight grandkids. I have two daughters – the eldest, Georgia, is 44. The next one, Lizzy, is about 36. Georgia lives at a place called Balnarring Beach, down past Mornington. The youngest one lives in a place called Pomona, up past Noosa. It’s always warm, she didn’t like the cold down in Melbourne. Lizzy has five kids and Georgia has three.

What would a normal day at the stables entail for you?

I live in Euroa. I usually grab a cup of tea and head straight out to the (Lindsay Park) hut where we watch all the track work. It starts around 6am. The horses are coming up by then. The boys are normally there. My main job is watching them. Watching all the gallops, watching their actions. We get a lot of slow horses coming up, like doing slow work. It’s mainly just watching them and recording who is going the best.

How many days are you working?

Normally six days. I get Sunday off. Sometimes I get a Saturday off. Depends on where the boys are, you know.

So do you have any retirement plans?

I will probably spend more time in the winter up in Pomona – because you have long service leave and holidays. If I can get out of the cold here for a month, it would be good. But I will stick with the Hayes family for as long as I can. What else can you do – gardening or fishing? I’d rather be working with horses.