She’s Australia’s newest sporting hero after her inspirational triumph at the Melbourne Cup — but how much do we really know about Michelle Payne?
Yesterday, Michelle Payne — the only woman in the race — became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. It wasn’t just her victory that inspired, as her post-race interview had women around the country pumping their fists in the air.
“To think that (owner) Darren Weir has given me a go and it’s such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me,” she said.
“I 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 and 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!”
Here are 10 things you should know about the toast of the nation.
She’s thinking about retirement
It was literally only yesterday that most of the nation met Michelle Payne for the first time, but it might already be time to say goodbye. Michelle’s father, 79-year-old Paddy Payne, told the ABC that now would be the best time for his daughter to retire.
“I think she should give it away now, she’s 30 years old, she’s been doing it for 15 years, I think it’s time for her to give it away,” he said.
Michelle is reportedly considering her father’s advice, and has suggested she will become a trainer next year.
She did it tough early on
Unlike many of the characters that populate the racing landscape, Michelle wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She grew up poor on the outskirts of Ballarat in the late 1980s. Her mother, Mary, died tragically in a car crash when Michelle was just six months old. Michelle has said that her father, Paddy, used to talk to her every day about how much he loved and missed Mary.
Racing is in her blood
Michelle is the youngest of 10 kids. Not only is father Paddy a trainer, but seven of her siblings — five of her sisters and two of her brothers — became jockeys. One of her brothers, Patrick, is now a well-known trainer in Victoria. Two of her brothers-in-law, Brett Prebble and Kerrin McEvoy, are also jockeys. Sadly, the eldest of her siblings, Brigid, died of a heart attack in 2007, six months after a fall that left her in an induced coma.
Her brother is her secret weapon
Michelle’s Melbourne Cup victory was a win for the sisterhood, but it’s her brother, Steven Payne, who stands proudest.
The youngest of the Payne kids, Michelle and Steven were inseparable growing up, and continue to live together. Steven, who has Down Syndrome, works as Michelle’s strapper, which means he preps and grooms the horses she works with. It was Steven who drew the lucky number one barrier for yesterday’s race, and it was Steven who made the eerily accurate prediction before the race that Michelle would surge to the front with 200 metres to go.
Steven was overcome with emotion after the race, telling trackside reporters: “It’s a great moment, it’s a great win and it’s a great ride — 10 out of 10!”
Michelle has told the ABC that Steven shatters the stigma associated with people with Down Syndrome. “I think it’s great for other people with Down Syndrome — to see how capable they can be in normal life. Stevie can pretty much do anything, and look after himself when he’s on his own.”
There's the face of this year's Cup for mine. You bloody little ripper Stevie Payne. Such a great story all 'round pic.twitter.com/Ko7BgMCxwu
— Andy Maher (@MGMaherSEN) November 3, 2015
She’s a natural
Michelle rode her first race when she was just 15 aboard Reigning, a horse trained by her father. Obviously, she won.
She’s from the school of hard knocks
Michelle has bounced back from a number of horrific falls. In 2004, while racing at Sandown, she was left with a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, leading family members to beg her to retire. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.
In 2012, she was thrown over the head of her horse at a race meeting at Donald, leaving her with four fractured vertebrae and broken ribs. Later that year, she had another fall at Aratat. That time, she actually did consider retirement — but her father talked her out of it.
Bart Cummings played an instrumental role
The late Bart Cummings, a legendary figure in the Australian racing industry, played a big role in Michelle’s early success. Her first group win came at the Toorak Handicap at Caulfield in 2009, riding Allez Wonder. The next month, Cummings offered Payne a ride in the Caulfield Cup, making her only the third female jockey to be granted that honour. She also rode Allez Wonder for Cummings in that year’s Melbourne Cup, placing 16th.
She was already a champion
Even if Michelle didn’t win the Melbourne Cup yesterday, she could still have walked away from her career as a jockey with her head held high. Not only had she consistently been a trailblazer in a male-dominated industry, but she’d been damn good at it — even before yesterday’s big windfall, the horses she’d ridden had amassed more than $20 million in prize money.
Her horse is a champion, too
In all the hype surrounding Michelle’s breakthrough win, it’s easy to forget that the horse she rode, Prince of Penzance, is the real hero here. Trained in Ballarat and conditioned by swimming in the sea at Warrnambool, Prince of Penzance was considered a 100-1 rank outsider to come away with a victory, but beat heavily favoured international horses to win the Cup. Talk about your David-and-Goliath stories — Prince of Penzance is as big an underdog as they come.
History was on her side
That might seem like a strange thing to say, considering no female jockey had won the Melbourne Cup in its 155-year history. But in a strange coincidence, Michelle’s win came exactly 100 years after Mrs Edith Widdis became the first woman to own a horse that won the Melbourne Cup. Mrs Widdis owned Patrobus, which won the 1915 Melbourne Cup while wearing the number 19 — the same number Prince of Penzance wore yesterday.
What did you think of Michelle’s big moment? Let us know in the comments below!