Feisty Michelle wins big race and our hearts

If ever the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s great horse race, defined us as Australian, it was when the first woman jockey, Michelle Payne rode Prince of Penzance over the finish line at Flemington.

It was a sensational ride to victory against all the odds  ridden by a slip of a lady who even some of the horse’s owners wanted removed as jockey.  And Prince of Penzance had the equal longest odds in cup history at 100/1 racing against

Michelle’s story of her childhood dream  come true to win the Melbourne Cup reflects her life as one of 10 children  of the Payne horseracing family who had endured their fair share of life’s body blows.

The race itself had all the elements of why the Melbourne Cup stops the nation.  This year, the favourites were way back in the field and instead the 100/1  Prince of Penzance, romped home in a dream ride. With Michelle in the saddle,  the least favoured had grabbed the glory.

However, the magic began before the rac when Michelle’s brother, Stevie, who has Down syndrome, and is strapper for Prince of Penzance, drew the barrier for the magnificent animal.   It must have been a good luck omen.  Stevie, who lives with his sister, then  placed a $10- bet on his sister winning the race. Yet another barrier – attitudes to people with Down syndrome – was broken in an instant as Stevie explained his own hopes for his sister’s success.

When she won Australia’s most glamorous horse race, despite the gaggle of sporting commentators, owners and an adoring crowd, Michelle first hugged her brother. Then she mounted the podium, cracking the whip during  her victory speech to chide some of the part-owners who didn’t want her to ride, telling them in Aussie lingo to “get stuffed’’.

“I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world,’’ she railed.  She used her moment of glory to expose the chauvinism in Australian racing circles and said female jockeys were as good as men – as she had proven in the toughest race on our turf.

However, there is yet another powerful lesson in this true Aussie tale.   Prince of Penzance had flashed past all those foreign-owned magnificent horses (backed for millions) to show that an Aussie horse would win the race which honoured the late great Australian  race horse owner, Bart Cummings.

Michelle swept aside many societal stigmas and endemic discrimination in one mighty ride.  She lost her mother when she was only six years ago and the family of 10 siblings were raised by their trainer dad.  For the sake of horse racing, the tight-knit family faced grief when Michelle’s sister lost her life in a racing accident in 2007.

No wonder the Melbourne Cup  stops the nation. Because Michelle and her brother Stevie, won our hearts.   Watch this space for announcement of an Aussie film.




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