Melbourne Cup Day
Melbourne Cup Day

Payne: Sexist snubs pushed me to succeed

Michelle Payne was the youngest of 10 children who had to overcome all sorts of odds simply to be a jockey never mind win the Melbourne Cup.

In 2015 she became the first female to win the famous race on 100-1 outsider Prince Of Penzance and her achievement has now been recognised in the film Ride Like A Girl.

Payne talks about family feuds, rough rides on an off the track, how the Cup win changed and challenged her life and how she gave her horse a chance of winning when others didn't.

 

Michelle Payne (left) with siblings Stevie, Cathy and Margaret at the 2018 Melbourne Cup. Picture: Tony Gough
Michelle Payne (left) with siblings Stevie, Cathy and Margaret at the 2018 Melbourne Cup. Picture: Tony Gough

 

You had seven siblings who were jockeys. Was there ever family feuds on the course?

All the time. Once time Cathy and I fought for 800m. I pushed her out four wide and we fought all the way to the finish. When we pulled up Nash Rawiller said "there's nothing like sisterly love.''

 

What about acceptance time?

There were fights among the older kids all the time. Patrick use to steal Therese's rides because they wanted a male on despite the fact she rode the horse in track-work.

 

Andrew, Cathy, Michelle, Stephen, Margaret, Bernadette, Patrick, and Therese together. Picture: Yuri Kouzmin
Andrew, Cathy, Michelle, Stephen, Margaret, Bernadette, Patrick, and Therese together. Picture: Yuri Kouzmin

 

Ten children at a dinner table … what was it like?

Mayhem. There was always fights going on and shoes getting thrown. But it was just so much fun which I think the movie does capture. You got a seat where you could sit, whether that was on the ground or the couch or the dinner table.

 

Did you plan your famous "you can get stuffed'' comment against chauvinism in the racing industry after the Melbourne Cup win?

No. It was off the cuff. I would not even tell you what was going to come out of my mouth at that point. I was so excited. It was a whirlwind. I was being whisked from here to there. My family were grabbing me and I was jumping up and down. I was subconsciously dealing with all those years of being taken off for the boys - "you are not strong enough'' - and knowing the ride on Prince was always shakey. I was on egg shells all the time (fearing I could be taken off). A couple of times when I won on him I thought "thank you god'' so I felt it was the time to stand up for all those years of putting up with being put down.

 

If you went back in time would you say it again?

Yes. Would not change it for the world.

 

A shot from Ride Like A Girl with Teresa Palmer and Sam Neill.
A shot from Ride Like A Girl with Teresa Palmer and Sam Neill.

 

Did your emotions fluctuate much throughout the movie?

I went in with an open mind. I had four years to prepare. I wanted to enjoy it for what it was. I did not want to compare it to my life. It was not going to be the same. It's a movie. But I was blown away by it. Teresa Palmer and Sam Neill, they are the ultimate professionals. They have really captured dad and I. It was eerie. We lost our mum in a car accident when I was a baby and I was glad they did not put that scene in.

 

One scene they did include was the death of your sister Brigid (after a seizure). How tough was that to watch?

When I first watched it, it sort of sprung on me and a flood of emotion came back.

 

Did you cry?

Yes. I have seen the movie five times and I cried the first four times at that scene. That and a few other scenes of the tough times got me but a movie has to do that. My story was not always a fairy tale but we got through and that is amazing.

 

Prince of Penzance trainer Darren Weir and Payne after winning the 2015 Melbourne Cup. Picture: AAP Image/David Crosling
Prince of Penzance trainer Darren Weir and Payne after winning the 2015 Melbourne Cup. Picture: AAP Image/David Crosling

 

The trainer of Prince of Penzance, Darren Weir, has since been banned for possessing jiggers. How do you feel about that?

I was shocked like everybody else. I felt really sad. He has built this incredible empire and he is a horseman. We parted ways after the Melbourne Cup but I felt part of him being a horseman he is he kept me on Prince Of Penzance because we had a lovely connection - the horse was fiery but I kept him calm with soft hands.

 

Were you glad they kept Weir in the film?

Yes because he gave me an opportunity where a lot of men would have shied away and he gave (her brother) Stevie an opportunity to strap a horse in a six million dollar race.

He saw Stevie for what he was. He was great with horses and that had to be in the film.

 

Payne with her brother Stevie in 2013. Picture: Colleen Petch
Payne with her brother Stevie in 2013. Picture: Colleen Petch

 

Your brother Stevie, who has Down syndrome, plays himself in the film and has been hailed as the star. Does that surprise you?

I thought they might struggle to bring out the real Stevie because he gets quite shy in front of the cameras and changes his personality. But they got him as if he was at home on the farm. So natural. He's hilarious. They captured that and I loved that.

 

I saw the film shoot of you in Vogue which seemed a contrast of you growing up in your big sisters clothes.

Growing up was so embarrassing (laughs). I got all the hand me downs and by the time they got to me they were pretty bad. I used to get teased at school. My friends had these cool clothes and I made a pact with myself when I grew older I would buy as many new clothes as I could and I have kept that pact.

 

You said you hoped your Melbourne Cup win would change life for female jockeys. Has it?

Yes. I think so but it has been a slow process. It was not necessarily down to my win. We have some great female riders. There are owners who might be more inclined to give a girl a go after my victory but I would not like to steal the credit for the great efforts of girls like Kathy O'Hara, Jamie Kah, and Linda Meech.

 

Did your dad try to talk you out of being a jockey?

Not really. From the time I was five I was obsessed about being a jockey and I drove him insane wanting to go to the stables. I would cry if he forgot. When I started racing at 15 he said "the others showed more potential … you were good at school why don't you go back to school.'' It made me so angry and I said "I will show you.'' But when he knew I wasn't giving up he would drive me to every race meeting and even walk the track with me.

 

Payne and Prince of Penzance at Warrnambool’s Lady Bay beach. Picture: David Caird
Payne and Prince of Penzance at Warrnambool’s Lady Bay beach. Picture: David Caird

 

Prince of Penzance was a 100-1 shot in the Cup. In your eyes what price was he?

I thought he was more like a 20-1 shot. They had The United States at 18-1 and he beat us in the Moonee Valley Cup the week before but after the line Prince was full of running and The United States was all out. But he was $18 because Joao Moreira was riding him and my horse was $100 because I was riding him. When we drew barrier I was so excited because I thought this is our chance. I even pulled out of riding a horse at Kilmore on the Sunday rather than risk anything happening.

 

How hard was it to decide after the Melbourne Cup whether to exploit your new found fame or go back to the track each morning and ride work?

Very hard. It was very hard to do both. I tried to juggle both but it nearly killed me. I was not riding enough to stay fit so I got stressed and bit unhealthy because I was not eating properly on the road. I wasn't prepared for it. My life has changed and so many great things have come with it.

 

Was there any particularly day when you felt particularly heartbroken at the way you were treated?

There is a scene in the film at Caulfield where I would stand there for five hours and ride one horse in track work. That was hard because I had as much to offer as the guys but stubbornness won. I got there in the end.

 

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