When Michelle Payne rode Prince of Penzance to victory in the 2015 Melbourne Cup, she became the first female winner in the race’s 155-year history. She joined Richard Morecroft in Melbourne at an AHRI International Women’s Day Event on 9 March for a conversation about her career and life experiences.
In the months since her historic win, Australians have become well acquainted with Payne’s story, and her family’s resilience and matter-of-fact approach to life in the face of tragic and unfortunate events.
From her father and nine siblings dealing with the sudden death of her mother when Michelle was just six months old, to the aspiring jockey’s many injuries in pursuit of her long-held dream, they are a testament to what can be achieved by just putting your head down and getting on with it.
“I didn’t say too much to the other jockeys; I just tried to prove them wrong,” Payne says. “Every time I feel like I’m doing it tough I think back to my dad and what he went through … There’s always somebody worse off.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the jockey credits herself only with hard and thorough work, explaining her racing strategy as “leaving no stone left unturned.”
“You can’t look back on a ride and wish you’d done something that you didn’t try,” she says.
Payne has been described as rare kind of icon – one who lives with gratitude and humility. But the themes that she returned to again and again were the values of hard work and persistence. She says, “I always had the confidence in myself that I would get there. If you work really hard and persist, you can achieve your dreams.”
She also spoke to the need for more opportunities for women in racing, in male-dominated industries and across the workforce. “We just have to get the opportunity to prove ourselves… guys are guys and will try to put you down, especially if you’re beating them,” Payne says.
Of course, one of the remedies for that competition is role models. Payne says it’s important to her to act as a role model for other young people and young female jockeys. “I had great role models which is why I’m sitting here today. To be an inspiration and life people’s spirits is just an amazing feeling.”
And as for that history-setting race, she can’t help but grin: “It still amazes me; every time I watch it, it still gives me goose bumps.”