In its 155-year history, the Melbourne Cup has been won by female owners, trainers and horses. And now, finally, by a female jockey. When a 100-1 shot wins one of the biggest races in the world, usually the horse’s name is what becomes legendary. However, with all due respect to Prince of Penzance’s gallant effort, it is his jockey Michelle Payne who is going into the record books after the pair took the AU$6.2 million Melbourne Cup.
In the immediate aftermath of the race, story lines came pouring out like molten lava from a volcano. Once everyone had come to terms with the fact a huge upset had taken place, one factoid quickly became the headline: Michelle had just become the first female jockey to ever win the ‘Race that Stops a Nation.’
“I just hope it’s a reminder that if you work hard and you dream, things can happen,” she said. “I really want to say to all the young children and people growing up with dreams, you’ve got to believe in yourself. For some reason I always have had great belief in myself. I don’t know why, but I always thought I was going to be a good jockey and one day win the Melbourne Cup.”
Making the win even sweeter is the fact it was also the first Cup victory for Prince of Penzance’s trainer, Darren Weir. The champion Victorian trainer has always had faith in Michelle, who has piloted Prince of Penzance in 23 of his 24 career starts.
The feel-good nature of their victory didn’t stop there, though. Prince of Penzance’s strapper is Michelle’s brother, Stevie, who successfully predicted he would snare barrier one for his sister at the Melbourne Cup’s draw.
However, almost dying is a pretty good reason to not be at your best for a bit.
• 1915 The first woman owner to win the Cup was Mrs E.A. Widdis with Patrobas.
• 1938 Technically Mrs. Allen McDonald became the first female trainer to win the Cup, but because women could not be licensed in Australia, it was her husband who was put down as the trainer of record of Catalogue.
• 1987 The first female jockey to ride in the Cup was Maree Lyndon on Argonaut Style.
• 2001 Sheila Laxon becomes the first woman trainer to officially win the Melbourne Cup. Doubling up on girl power, she won with the mare Ethereal.
• 2003 The first Australian female jockey to ride in the Cup was Clare Lindop on Debben.
• 2005 Wondermare Makybe Diva becomes the only horse to ever win the Cup three times.
• 2013 Fiorente makes trainer Gai Waterhouse, the ‘First Lady of
Australian Racing,’ the third (or second if you want to be technical) woman to win the Cup.
• 2015 Michelle Payne, riding Prince of Penzance, becomes the first female jockey to win the Cup.
“Michelle said she would have been happy with barrier one or two, but I said ‘I’m going to get barrier number one’ and I got it,” Stevie said. “It was very exciting, I’m so happy for Darren, Michelle and all the owners.”
Having a beneficial post position helped Michelle win the race of her life. Stevie has Down Syndrome, and the spotlight on his career success has hopefully challenged stigmas surrounding the condition. Watching Stevie lead Michelle and Prince of Penzance back into the yard after their victory is one of the most touching moments in sports this year.
“He’s just as capable and can do just as good a job as any of the other staff,” said Michelle. “It’s just great that he’s been able to share this experience with me because growing up we were always so much closer being the two youngest of 10. We were often left to go and play on our own, and it’s just amazing to be able to share that with him.”
Then there is the horse himself. Prince of Penzance earned his spot in the race by finishing second in the Moonee Valley Cup just 11 days prior. The gelding had won the contest in 2014, which was his last victory before the duo’s historic achievement. However, almost dying is a pretty good reason to not be at your best for a bit. In February, while on a spell, the gelding suffered from colic and had to have life-saving surgery due to his twisted bowel. His spell ended up stretching to 41 weeks while he recovered.
“He’s just a superstar, this horse,” said Michelle. “What he’s been through, I thought he could do it, but Darren said they don’t usually come back from colic surgery as good as they were. But he’s come back better.”
To top it all off, there are the 6-year-old gelding’s owners. All 50 or so of them. Back in 2011, you could get a 2% stake in the future Melbourne Cup winner for AU$1,000. The horse, affectionately known as Pop, has now earned AU$4,405,690.
For all the storylines, though, the one that will leave its biggest mark on history is Michelle’s.
“The unlikely win of Darren Weir, Michelle Payne and my good friend Sandy McGregor, the managing owner of Prince of Penzance, is another unforgettable chapter in the rich history of our great race,” said Victoria Racing Club’s CEO Simon Love. “Michelle’s remarkable Emirates Melbourne Cup victory has made history and headlines around the world. We hope that her determination will encourage further female participation and provide countless new opportunities for women in racing.”
The first female jockey to ride in the Cup was Maree Lyndon on Argonaut Style in 1987, and now Michelle’s name will go down as the first to win it. The 30-year-old was riding in just her second Melbourne Cup, after finishing 22nd on Allez Wonder in 2009.
This time though, with this horse, she was not to be denied.
“I’ve obviously dreamt about it for many years,” Michelle said. “I’d run this race in my head a few times, and I couldn’t believe how relaxed I was. I just went out there and rode the race. It didn’t work out great from the start because he began a bit slow. I had to dig him out, which was the last thing I wanted to do, to get him pulling in the race. But I felt I had to hold my position. I wasn’t giving up that rail.”
Michelle, who once said she would retire from racing riding at age 28 but changed her mind, came by her love of riding honestly, hailing from a racing family. She paid tribute to that heritage, noting that her father was a trainer and seven of her nine other siblings also became jockeys.
“Racing is in my blood,” she said. “Right from as long as I can remember I was going to be a jockey. There are just so many people to thank. My family, every one of them is a support in their own way and I’m so grateful to be from such a large family. My dad, he’s awesome. Every time you’re going through a hard stage he picks you up and brings you back. I’m just grateful to everybody because I wouldn’t be here without them.”
For those who doubted her, Michelle also had a few memorable words:
“I just want to say to everyone else, they can get stuffed because they think women aren’t strong enough. We just beat the world. I’m so glad I could do the job, not only for Darren and all the owners and his team, but for female jockeys in particular.”
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