Hayes was born in Semaphore, South Australia on 16 February 1924. His father died when he was 10 years old. On leaving school he gained employment with the South Australian Electricity Trust as a boilermaker, but his love of horses soon led him to purchase a steeplechaser named Surefoot for £9. As an amateur rider, Hayes rode Surefoot himself with his best result being a third in the 1948 Great Eastern Steeplechase run at Oakbank.
Popular legend has it that Hayes bet his honeymoon money on Surefoot, which ran third at odds of 60/1, enabling him to recoup the money and a little profit. His wife Betty was apparently very angry about the incident at the time.
Hayes's initial moderate success with Surefoot drove him to expand his operations and he set up stables called 'Surefoot Lodge' at Semaphore. He won his first Adelaide trainers' premiership in 1956 but decided he wanted to expand his operations into breeding winners as well.
Hayes chose a place in the Barossa Valley approximately 80 kilometres north-east of Adelaide, with many people saying it was too far out of the metropolitan area to succeed.
A syndicate of people was formed to purchase the property known as Lindsay Park, an 800-hectare property of very rich pasture land and superb paddocks. The centrepiece of the property is a magnificent 38-room mansion built in 1840 by George Fife Angas from sandstone and marble quarried on the property.
In making the move Hayes lost several owners and promising horses, reducing his stable from 40 to 16 horses.
He officially began training there on 1 August 1970 and over the next 29 years created one of the most successful breeding and training establishments in the world.
A sign of his success is the world record 10 individual winners in a day, a feat he achieved on 23 January 1982.
Amongst the many thousands of races won by Hayes and his horses were the following major race wins:
- 1976 How Now
- 1985 Rory's Jester
VRC Australian Cup