Michelle and her Prince – Crashed Through the Grass Ceil­ing

Story by Cathryn Mered­ith • Im­ages from Sharon Lee Chapman, Ross Steven­son, VRC and RVL

Ladies in Racing - - Contents -

Michelle and her Prince de­fied 23 other blue-blood gal­lop­ers and the top ech­e­lon of Aus­tralian and in­ter­na­tional jock­eys, to claim the $6.2 mil­lion fea­ture in a fairy­tale for her, trainer Dar­ren Weir and a group of own­ers, led by Stawell iden­tity Sandy Mcgre­gor and John Richards. At the age of five, Michelle had a dream of win­ning the Mel­bourne Cup and she re­alised her dream had be­come a re­al­ity and her world would change for­ever, when she rode Prince of Pen­zance, an equal long­est priced win­ner at 100/1 in the his­tory of the race. Bal­larat trainer Dar­ren Weir was ec­static as she crossed the fin­ish line to the roar of over 100,000 peo­ple at Flem­ing­ton, in the race that was watched by mil­lions across me­dia plat­forms world­wide. If you did not know the name Michelle Payne then, you cer­tainly do now. Dar­ren truly be­lieved in Michelle. He watched her ded­i­ca­tion as she trav­elled around the coun­try, driv­ing for hours to fol­low Prince of Pen­zance and ride him in races, as well as the hours she spent nurs­ing him in the sta­bles to help man­age his re­cu­per­a­tion. When Michelle com­pleted her his­tory mak­ing ride, she was quick to de­fend lady jock­eys and to let the world know what the win meant to her; and their strug­gle for cred­i­bil­ity, recog­ni­tion and ac­cep­tance of their skills in such a male dom­i­nated in­dus­try. “Dar­ren Weir has given me a go when it’s such a male chau­vin­is­tic sport”, Michelle said af­ter the race. “I know some of the own­ers were keen to kick me off, and John and Dar­ren stuck strongly with me, and I had put in all the ef­fort I could and gal­loped him all I could, be­cause I thought he had what it takes to win the Mel­bourne Cup. I can’t say how grate­ful I am to them and I want to say to ev­ery­one else, get stuffed, be­cause women can do any­thing and we can beat the world.” “Rac­ing is a very male dom­i­nated sport,” she said at the vic­tory pre­sen­ta­tion, clearly al­lud­ing to the fact that many own­ers be­lieve male jock­eys are stronger. “But you know what? It’s not all about strength. It’s about get­ting a horse into a rhythm for you. It’s be­ing pa­tient.” Jock­eys al­ways talk about the ad­van­tage of hav­ing soft hands. It’s rac­ing talk for not jerk­ing too much at the reins. Michelle, like all the best jock­eys, is renowned for her soft hands. She also has that other prized as­set of the best rid­ers; pa­tience. In the Mel­bourne Cup, you can’t press the ‘go but­ton’ too early. Do that and half the field will run you down. If you’re lucky enough to have a horse trav­el­ling well on the home turn, you have to wait. You need pa­tience. Michelle ex­plained that when Prince of Pen­zance burst to the front, not even half-way down the Flem­ing­ton straight, she was ex­cited. She said, “Prince was trav­el­ling so well at the turn, I just could not be­lieve it and when I went for the run, I let out the big­gest scream of my life. “I thought, ‘this is amaz­ing’. I also thought, ‘I se­ri­ously can’t be­lieve it’. I couldn’t work out why I was so calm be­fore the race. I told Dar­ren be­fore the race that I had a feel­ing we would win the Mel­bourne Cup and he just chuck­led and said, let’s think top 10 fin­ish, so that took a lot of pres­sure off me” she said.



"This is ev­ery­body's dream as a jockey in Aus­tralia and now prob­a­bly the world," Michelle told Chan­nel Seven af­ter the race. "And I dreamt about it from when I was five years old. There was an in­ter­view from my school friends, which they were teas­ing me about when I was about seven and I said, 'I'm go­ing to win the Mel­bourne Cup' and they al­ways gave me a bit of grief about it and I can't be­lieve we've done it." “I hope I have helped the lady jock­eys” she told ABC’S 7.30. “I feel sorry for all the girls out there that haven’t had the op­por­tu­nity I have had. I’m the first win­ner, but I think ev­ery­one de­serves a chance. I re­ally hope that it helps open up more op­por­tu­ni­ties for my fel­low lady jock­eys and we get more of a go”. Michelle con­tin­ued, "It has al­ways been frus­trat­ing that when I ride a bad race, they say it's be­cause I am fe­male, but when the same horse is rid­den badly by a male, his gen­der does not come into it". Co-in­ci­den­tally Michelle wore pur­ple, green and white silks on the day, the colours worn by the Suf­fragettes in Eng­land, a his­tor­i­cal move­ment which ac­tively cam­paigned for the right of women to vote. Michelle shared her vic­tory with her brother Ste­vie, who has Down Syn­drome and played a big role in the prepa­ra­tion of Prince be­fore the race, be­ing his strap­per. She has a spe­cial affin­ity with Ste­vie and he was clearly thrilled when Michelle won. Ste­vie drew the cov­eted No 1 bar­rier on the Satur­day be­fore as well and won the Tommy Wood­cock Tro­phy as strap­per of the win­ner. “We are the youngest two chil­dren and are very close”, Michelle said. “It was great that I could share this with him. He told me when he led me onto the track to make sure I won, be­cause he had backed the horse.” Michelle is also us­ing her knew found promi­nence to spread an im­por­tant mes­sage about peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties. Michelle has not had an easy jour­ney and has faced many chal­lenges through­out her ca­reer. Born on Septem­ber 29th, 1985, she was the youngest daugh­ter of 11 chil­dren born to Pa­trick and Mary Payne. She grew up on the fam­ily farm at Min­ers Rest, not far from the Bal­larat race­course. She was the eighth child to be­come a jockey, fol­low­ing sib­lings Brigid, Therese, Maree, Ber­nadette, Pa­trick, An­drew and Cathy. She be­came in­den­tured to her father Pat and at 15 won at her first ever race ride aboard Reign­ing, a horse trained by her father. Sadly Michelle’s mother Mary died in a car ac­ci­dent when she was just six months old, but her father Pat, told her daily how much he loved Mary and con­tin­ued to bring up the chil­dren alone. Big sis­ter Brigid who was then 16, also helped raise her baby sis­ter un­der the watch­ful eye of their Kiwi father. The Payne girls learned to ride race­horses and they rode them very well. Eight of the 11 Payne chil­dren be­came li­censed jock­eys. Un­for­tu­nately the Payne boys, Pa­trick (Paddy) and An­drew, even­tu­ally were too heavy and went into train­ing and the girls started to re­tire from the sad­dle.

Michelle be­lieves her mum rides on her shoul­der with her and has pro­tected her in a num­ber of big falls she’s had since suf­fer­ing her near fa­tal fall at Sandown in March 2004. Michelle fell heav­ily, re­sult­ing in a skull frac­ture and bruis­ing on her brain. With a pro­longed re­cov­ery pe­riod, not helped when she had an­other fall frac­tur­ing her wrist, she was granted an ex­ten­sion of her ap­pren­tice­ship. Her father Pat, wanted her to give up rac­ing af­ter that nasty fall and he faced more heartache in 2007 when he lost his el­dest daugh­ter Brigid when she suf­fered a heart at­tack, six months af­ter be­ing placed in an in­duced coma as a re­sult of a race fall. Show­ing the tra­di­tional strength of char­ac­ter that typ­i­fied the Payne fam­ily, in 2005 Michelle be­came the first lady jockey to out­ride her metropoli­tan claim in Mel­bourne aboard Leroy the Boy for trainer Paul Pruesker. In 2010, Michelle trav­elled to Eng­land to take a break from race rid­ing. She stayed with her sis­ter Cathy and hus­band, well known jockey Ker­rin Mcevoy. Two of Michelle’s other sis­ters, Therese and Maree both mar­ried jock­eys. Therese mar­ried Ja­son Pat­ton and Maree mar­ried Brett Peb­ble.

Michelle utilised this trip, by mak­ing it a work­ing hol­i­day as she rode for Luca Cu­mani and Jane Chap­ple-hyam in Eng­land, Ai­dan O’brien in Ire­land and Ge­orges Delouze in France. Upon re­turn­ing from Europe, Michelle helped many of the younger jock­eys, both male and fe­male, by pro­vid­ing guid­ance, ad­vise and sup­port and help­ing them with gear pre­sen­ta­tion, track walk­ing, anal­y­sis of race re­plays and as­sis­tance in their gen­eral pre­sen­ta­tion. She even helped some of them with trans­porta­tion to and from race days. Michelle made her break­through as a Group 1 win­ning jockey when she rode Allez Won­der in the Toorak Hand­i­cap at Caulfield in 2009, for the leg­endary Bart Cum­mings. Bart was so im­pressed by her ride he im­me­di­ately of­fered her the ride in the Caulfield Cup the fol­low­ing Satur­day. Michelle was only the third lady jockey to ride in the pres­ti­gious race. Michelle be­came the first lady jockey to ride a Group 1 win­ner at Rand­wick when she pi­loted the two year old filly Yo­sei, trained by Stu­art Webb, to win then AJC Sires’ Pro­duce Stakes in April, 2010. She was to ride Yo­sei to two more Group 1 suc­cesses in the Thou­sand Guineas at Caulfield in Oc­to­ber, 2010 and the Tatts Tiara at Ea­gle Farm in June, 2011, when I was in at­ten­dance. Michelle de­scribed Yo­sei as a lit­tle star, who al­ways gave her best in ev­ery race.

Jo Mckin­non said “A mon­u­men­tal mo­ment in world rac­ing.

Con­grat­u­la­tions to Michelle Payne be­com­ing the first fe­male rider to win the Mel­bourne Cup. Stun­ning ride and such a com­posed and elo­quent post-race speech. I will never for­get the mo­ment she told me over din­ner in Hong Kong sev­eral years ago how highly she rated this horse. She said then he was an ab­so­lute su­per­star in the mak­ing. That be­lief was more than vin­di­cated to­day. No bet­ter horse to take her on the great­est jour­ney of her ca­reer and help break down huge bar­ri­ers for women in the sport of kings. The ma­jor stage is no longer the do­main of men. This his­toric re­sult at Flem­ing­ton to­day will in­spire con­fi­dence in many more tal­ented horse women to fol­low and im­por­tantly broaden the ap­peal of rac­ing to the gen­eral pub­lic at a cru­cial time when the im­age of the sport is un­der fire.

Sharon Lee Chapman from Fast Track Pho­tog­ra­phy said

What Michelle Payne has done for women in rac­ing, not just in Aus­tralia, but all over the world, will be re­mem­bered for gen­er­a­tions. Michelle took on the best the world had to of­fer while mil­lions around the globe were watch­ing. Her pas­sion for her craft, her pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion to Prince of Pen­zance has been in­spir­ing. My heart­felt con­grat­u­la­tions go to Michelle Payne on her in­cred­i­ble, his­tory mak­ing vic­tory.

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