Twelve months after walking away from the sport following a demoralising fall at Doncaster, he is now back in the winner’s enclosure – and just one success away from his 100th career victory in the UK.
It has been some journey. The despair of December 29, 2013, when the jockey came to grief on Sir Harry Hotspur was followed by a contemplative recuperation, a riding stint in America, a summer labouring on building sites for his brother, a second spell in the USA before a riding comeback in this country.
The 25-year-old’s first winner back was aboard Tales Of Milan – ironically at Doncaster – in late November and the rider was in the saddle when the same horse, trained by Phil Middleton, won the 888Sport London National at Sandown Park eight days later.
Aintree and the Crabbie’s Grand National is now the dream for this unlikely pair – the trainer has just four horses at his Buckinghamshire stables.
Haynes was then seen to particularly good effect at Newcastle on Saturday aboard the Sue Smith-trained novice chaser Clan William. It was his very first ride for the High Eldwick handler.
Yet the fall and rise of this most likable of riders is indicative of horse racing’s wheel of fortune.
In 2014, Haynes enjoyed headline-grabbing wins at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals aboard Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson’s Attaglance before the opportunities dried up and the confidence ebbed away.
In many respects, Haynes might not be riding today if he had not suffered several rib injuries after hitting the deck from the John Mackie-trained Sir Harry Hotspur. The pain was as much physical as mental.
“It was a hurdle. He was running too keen and landed on another horse after the second,” he told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview.
“I was going badly at the time. I had had just two winners since the start of the 2013-14 season in the first week of May. I wasn’t enjoying it and I didn’t want to go racing to ride s***.
“My weight was also not good. I used to have a bad day, go home to Malton, have a few drinks and eat too much. I would dread the decs coming out if I was going to have to do 10 stone the next day. Now I am back in the swing of it, my weight is as good as ever and I can do 10 stone without a bother. I’m enjoying it now because I am not putting myself under as much pressure.
“Before, I had to ride winners to make a living. Now I ride because I want to. There was one day when I rode out 13 horses at different yards, that’s my record. I’m hoping to beat it. I’m back living with my mother and she’s been very supportive. It keeps the costs down.”
Convinced that there would be even less opportunities after being usurped at Jefferson’s Malton yard by Brian Hughes, and then the long lay-off following the fall from Sir Harry Hotspur, Haynes turned his back on riding in this country.
He teamed up with American hall of fame trainer Janet Elliott and rode six winners from 45 rides before spending the summer labouring for his brother on building sites where he toiled under the summer sun. “I hated every minute of it,” admitted Haynes.
With no other options, he returned to the USA – but the rides were few and far between. He was back to square one before salvation arrived in the form of Gary Moore, the trainer of 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy, and the current patriarch of a great racing dynasty headed by his son Ryan, widely regarded as being the best Flat rider in the world.
Like the Haynes family, he hails from West Sussex and allowed the jockey to start riding out three days a week. They’re also kindred spirits.
“Gary rides three or four lots in the morning and mucks out at evening stables,” said Haynes, long regarded as a grafter.
“They’re not afraid of work and it’s good to see them getting the recognition. I’ll go anywhere for a ride and my agent Dave Roberts has been great. We communicate 90 per cent of the time by text. I tell him where I’ve been riding out and he suggests trainers to approach.
“The wins on Tales Of Milan have helped, especially the London National. It was shown on Channel Four Racing and you are able to sell yourself a bit as a rider – people do take notice.
“I’ll go anywhere for a ride and the six-hour drive from home to Newcastle was worth it when Clan William won. It was my first ride for Mr and Mrs Smith.
“The pacesetter made a mistake down the back and I just let my horse cruise on. I didn’t worry about whether I was doing the right thing or the wrong thing. I would have done in the past, but I just rode Clan William as I would ride my own horse.
“I’m on 99 UK winners and my target is to hit 100 by the New Year.”
On this form, it would be remiss to bet against Harry Haynes doing just that.