Michelle and her Prince – Crashed Through the Grass Ceiling
Story by Cathryn Meredith • Images from Sharon Lee Chapman, Ross Stevenson, VRC and RVL
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.
WHEN MICHELLE PAYNE ZIPPED PASSED THE FINISH LINE RIDING PRINCE OF PENZANCE IN THE 154th RUNNING OF THE MELBOURNE CUP ON TUESDAY NOVEMBER 6th, SHE CHANGED THE COURSE OF HISTORY, NOT ONLY FOR BEING THE ONLY LADY JOCKEY RIDING IN THE 2015
LEGENDARY RACE, BUT THE FIRST LADY JOCKEY EVER TO WIN IT.
"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.