A female jockey has won the Melbourne Cup for the first time, beating odds of 100-1 to tell people who doubted her ability to “get stuffed”.
Michelle Payne, 30, rode Prince of Penzance to victory in Australia’s biggest race on Tuesday, coincidentally wearing the colours of the suffragettes: purple, white and green. She is the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup in its 155-year history and only the fourth female jockey to ride in the Cup.
The win was an extraordinary family story with the winning mount strapped by her brother, Stevie, who has Down’s Syndrome. The pair have eight other siblings and were raised by their father after their mother died in a car accident.
Payne, who was only 16 when her mother died, used her post-race interview to pay tribute to the trainer Darren Weir who had taken both her and her brother on and also to call out the “chauvinistic” culture of horse racing.
“It’s such a chauvinistic sport, a lot of the owners wanted to kick me off. Everyone else can get stuffed [who] think women aren’t good enough,” she said in her post-race interview.
She singled out one of the owners of the New Zealand-born horse for praise as she accepted the Melbourne Cup on stage.
“I would like to thank all of the owners, John Richards specifically, I think he is the main man who kept me on Prince Of Penzance, maybe a few of them who wanted to take me off,” she said.
“We just won Melbourne Cup so hopefully now they will be pretty happy with me.
“I would like to say that, you know, it’s a very male-dominated sport and people think we are not strong enough and all of the rest of it … you know what? It’s not all about strength, there is so much more involved, getting the horse into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient and I’m so glad to win Melbourne Cup and hopefully, it will help female jockeys from now on to get more of a go. Because, I believe that we sort of don’t get enough of a go and hopefully this will help.”
Her cup win could possibly be her last ride with Payne foreshadowing retirement just two days before the race.
“It’s probably going to be a bit sad to hang up the saddle so it would be a nice way to go out,” Payne told Fairfax Media on Sunday.
“I’m not sure how long the transition [into training] period will be, but it will be something great to get into. I only want a really small team and being a trainer is such a hard job. I’ve had a hard life being a jockey, but it will be nice to wind down, have a family and train two or three horses. That’s the way I’m looking at it. The [family] are all pretty happy to see my retire, but they’re very supportive at the same time.”
Born into a racing-mad family near Ballarat in central Victoria, Payne told her school mates when she was young that she would win the Melbourne Cup and has been open about the sacrifice and commitment her horse riding career has taken.
Seven of her siblings have trained as jockeys and at one point her older sister advised Payne to leave jockeying behind as she was missing “the best years” of her life.
“She used to ride, then went to university and studied to become an accountant. You don’t really get to party with your friends or anything like that, but I guess that’s a sacrifice I was prepared to make to follow my dream,” she told the Saturday Paper earlier this year.
“Racing is my passion and I’ve been able to have a good life anyway. I’ve been able to travel the world, so I’m not complaining.”
She thanked her entire family as she took to the podium and said she had “got the job done” for Stevie, who had drawn the crucial starting barrier number one for Prince of Penzance.
“Lastly, not least, I want to thank my family, my dad, brothers and sisters, especially Stevie, it was a dream to pick barrier one,” she said.
“So excited that I could get the job done for him today. So thank you very much. It’s just unbelievable.”
Payne had previously acknowledged the stigma her brother could face as someone with Down’s Syndrome and had spoke of her excitement at sharing the Melbourne Cup ride with him before the race.
“I think it’s great for other people with Down’s Syndrome, to see how capable they can be in normal life,” she told the ABC.
“Stevie can pretty much do anything, and look after himself when he’s on his own.”