ROYAL ASCOT MICHELLE PAYNE
Is it a book? Is it a film? Yes, it's the legend of Michelle Payne
Australia's top sporting feminist heads for Ascot
By Peter Thomas6:00PM, JUN 13 2017
As she and rank outsider Prince Of Penzance were loaded into the stalls for the 2015 Melbourne Cup, Michelle Payne may well have been dismissed in some quarters as a fairly successful jockey with a colourful back story, firm opinions and no chance of winning.
The 'race that stops a nation' had never given itself up to a female rider and it surely wasn't about to start now for the benefit of the forthright Victorian and the 100-1 no-hoper. At least she had a ride though, and the chance of a rear view of history being made.
Three and a half minutes later, after a madhouse of buffeting and scrimmaging, Payne was front-page news after an unlikely success that propelled her out of the shadows and into the national consciousness.
For many riders this would have been the moment to thank everybody and deliver racing platitudes, but for the woman who had joined seven of her nine brothers and sisters in grafting away at the racing game, it was time for a few home truths.
Payne, who had shrugged off a fractured skull and bruised brain as an apprentice and gone on to win a Thousand Guineas at Caulfield in 2010, decided that the aftermath of her finest hour at Flemington was the ideal opportunity to address all that was wrong in Australian racing or at least those things that held back women from advancing in the game.
"I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world," was the gist of the message from this Germaine Greer of the pigskin. It ruffled a few feathers and might have been expected to set her back still further in what she called "a chauvinistic sport", but nothing could have been further from the truth.
Now, the 31-year-old is on the brink of her first ride at Royal Ascot, a feat which at one stage might have ranked as the most pressing matter in her life; but that was before the book of her life came out, awards-givers recognised her as one of the most inspirational figures in the women's movement since Emmeline Pankhurst chained herself to the railings, and the feature film of her life became an inevitability. You can read all about it on her website.
"Its been frantic," concludes the trainer's daughter, whose father Paddy raised her alone after the death of her mother in a car crash when she was just six months old. "It shows you've just got to keep working hard and hope a few lucky breaks come your way. We're very busy these days and there's never a dull moment but it's been life-changing in every way. I'm living every day as if it's my last."
It's a very long way in all respects from Ballarat where Michelle rode her first winner on the Paddy Payne-trained Reigning to the glittering turf of Ascot, but for the woman who travelled to Washington D.C. recently to pick up her Longines Ladies Award an accolade previously afforded to both Princess Anne and Princess Haya the demanding nature of the trip must seem wholly undaunting.
Having overcome a working lifetime of prejudice and, last year, a crashing fall at Mildura that left her with severe abdominal injuries and a surgically reduced pancreas, Payne will have treated visa complications and a 10,000-mile flight as minor wrinkles in a plan that will reach fruition when she lines up on Kaspersky in next Tuesday's Queen Anne Stakes.
She and the six-year-old's trainer, fellow countrywoman Jane Chapple-Hyam, may not be expecting great things from the race, but it's a project that is as intriguing as it is ambitious.
Spotted in Italy by Gay Kelleway and recommended to Chapple-Hyam, the former Endo Botti-trained Italian and German Group 2 winner fitted the bill as a potential high-class globetrotter who might end up at the Melbourne Cup meeting. Proud Melburnian Chapple-Hyam and her Aussie friend met up over tennis in the city and the idea was conceived.
Payne explains: "I knew a lovely couple from Melbourne, Ernest and Ronda Clarke, who were approached and were very happy to buy the horse, with the prospect of it running at Royal Ascot and possibly coming over here to race at Flemington in November.
"The whole thing was that I would be able to ride it in both, so hopefully we can fulfill that, because the plan all along was always to have a lot of fun and enjoy the experience. The owners are fairly new to racing but are loving it so far and very much looking forward to the first big day.
"If all goes well next week, we'd like to go to Deauville in August and then take him back for me to train him for the [Group 1, $2 million] Emirates Stakes at the Melbourne Cup meeting."
That's right, Payne is a trainer now as well, having persuaded Racing Victoria that their rule preventing jockeys holding a training licence was rather pointless and unfair. At the end of the season she intends to hang up her boots to concentrate on training and starting a family, but in the meantime there's business to attend to on the 50-1 son of Footstepsinthesand, whose prep runs at Ascot [fifth in Listed company] and Nottingham [runner-up off top weight in a Class 2 handicap] did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for a return to both the country and the track.