The Cup sweep­stake

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Mark Souster

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.’’

GETTY IM­AGES

Michelle Payne be­came the first fe­male jockey to win the Mel­bourne Cup when she scored on out­sider Prince Of Pen­zance in 2015.

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