The Cup sweepstake
Plus, Melbourne Cup-winner Michelle Payne’s new hard-hitting movie role
Three years on from becoming an instant iconic figure in Australia, Michelle Payne is still fighting, still campaigning for better opportunities for women riders, still grafting on the farm, and still coming to terms with how to handle being a red-carpet celebrity. Payne was the jockey who, in 2015, in partnership with Prince Of Penzance, won the Melbourne Cup at odds of 100-1, stunning Australia in more ways than one could have imagined. She was the first female winner since the 3200m race was first run in 1861. She used the platform immediately to lash out at her critics, who never thought she would be good enough to succeed, as well as articulating her sense of injustice against women in the sport. The consternation was palpable. She was feted and chastised in equal measure. In the interim she has suffered a dreadful injury, when a horse trampled on her stomach after a fall, been fined by authorities for what were deemed inappropriate comments on Twitter about the track at Flemington racecourse, and been labelled fat to her face by a racegoer at a meeting. She was also suspended from riding for a month last year for testing positive for a banned substance to lose weight. She accepted responsibility for taking the appetite suppressant and apologised. She also won a ‘‘Don Award’’ in 2016 for the country’s most inspiring sporting achievement over the previous year. Oh, and there is a film of her life, being released next year, which is being trailed as a story of true Australian grit. The film is called Ride Like A Girl .Itis directed by Rachel Griffiths, a star of the hit movie Muriel’s Wedding. The script is by Andrew Knight, who wrote Hacksaw Ridge. Payne is played by Teresa Palmer, who starred in the latter. Kiwi icon Sam Neill plays her father. ‘‘My involvement was just making sure I was happy with the script for the whole family,’’ she says. ‘‘I stayed out of the way other than that because it was pretty overwhelming – and for my own sanity.’’ It will mean more of the limelight. ‘‘I am getting used to it, being embarrassed and shy and getting pictured on a red carpet,’’ she says. ‘‘You just have to go with the flow.’’ Being Michelle Payne is complicated. Having unleashed what she describes as a whirlwind after her victory, does she sometimes wish she could turn back the clock and return to her country roots when no-one had ever heard of her? ‘‘Definitely,’’ the 33-year-old says. ‘‘I did not win the Melbourne Cup to become famous; I did it to achieve a dream. Being on the farm is where I escape to and where I find peace.’’ This week she has been busy back on that farm in Ballarat, an hour’s drive west of Melbourne, and the centre of the 19th-century gold rush. It backs onto another of similar size owned by her exjockey father, Paddy. It was where she was born and grew up one of 10 children raised by her father after her mother, Mary, died when she was six. She is juggling packing up, moving house, tending to her horses, flitting between tractors and riding on grass mowers, in addition to preparing her horses for the races. In between all that, as it is Melbourne Cup week, she has been fitting in appearances in the build-up to the great race on Tuesday. She hopes to ride one of her horses at the meeting. So what is her priority in life? ‘‘Training is No 1,’’ Payne, who has 20 horses, says. ‘‘That’s where I have put all my money into on my farm. The rest I work around that.’’ Has much changed since she challenged racing to take a look at itself? ‘‘It is a very slow process,’’ she says. ‘‘It is getting better, but basically we have to prove ourselves time and time again. If a female works hard enough, rides well enough, she will do OK. But it is still harder than the male jockeys have it, which is not fair. Women are getting more recognition, but the mentality of owners and trainers has to change. That is not easy. ‘‘Training is very difficult, but I love being with the horses. I had a bit of trouble with some owners when I started out that made it really stressful. But once you get into a rhythm, get the right staff who you trust, it gets a whole lot easier.’’ Finding a balance is not easy. ‘‘Sometimes it feels it gets too much,’’ she says. ‘‘I spend a lot of time on my farm and getting that done right. Now I have the right foundations, I can definitely handle the other stuff. ‘‘The opportunities have been unbelievable — meeting people, the movie, all that stuff. It changed my life.’’
‘‘Being on the farm is where I escape to and where I find peace.’’
Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup when she scored on outsider Prince Of Penzance in 2015.