Australia

Payne family story captivates Australia after Melbourne Cup win

Michelle Payne celebrates with her sisters at the Melbourne Cup (3 Nov 2015) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michelle Payne celebrated her win with family at the trackside in Melbourne

"My sister Margaret and I both had a feeling we would win this race," said Michelle Payne, who on Tuesday became the first female jockey to take the prestigious Melbourne Cup.

That "feeling" reflects a family story that has captivated Australia, as 30-year-old Payne rode to victory in the "race that stops the nation" on 101-1 outsider Prince of Penzance.

Michelle was the youngest of 10 siblings brought up alone by their father, horse trainer Paddy Payne, in Ballarat, Victoria, after his wife died in a car crash when Michelle was only six months old.

A lifetime of being surrounded by horses made its impression on the siblings, with eight of them becoming jockeys and the other two working in the racing industry.

Despite having become the family's mother figure at the age of 16, the eldest sibling, Brigid, was seen as a trailblazer for women in horseracing.

"She really had to fight to earn her stripes," Racing Victoria's chief steward Des Gleeson once said of her.

"But she did it with great dignity and she was a terrific role model, not only for the rest of the Payne clan but also for female riders in Victoria and also Australia."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Michelle Payne paid special thanks to her brother Steven, a skilled stablehand

But in January 2007, Brigid died of a heart attack aged 36, believed to be linked to a fall from a horse the year before.

'Great rapport with the horses'

The tragedy, and several serious falls of her own including one which fractured her skull, failed to put Michelle off riding.

In 2009 she won her first Group One victory then a week later, became the third woman ever to ride in the high-profile Caulfield Cup.

By the Flemington Racecourse track on Tuesday - ecstatically celebrating her win - was Michelle's brother, Steven.

Image copyright EPA

He has worked as a strapper at the Darren Weir stables where Michelle trains for a decade, grooming, tacking and generally caring for the horses, and is regarded in racing circles as one of the best in the business.

Stephen Payne also has Down's syndrome, but Mr Weir told ABC News ahead of the race that this was no hindrance to his role.

"He can follow the work sheet, he can saddle them up, he can swim them, hose them, and he's got a great rapport with horses," he said.

"He's really enjoyable to have around, and I think it's important for those sorts of kids to get a go at something, and if they get a go they reward you."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Michelle Payne said anyone who doubted women's role in horseracing could "get stuffed"

Michelle Payne said her brother was a good role model for others with Down's, "to see how capable they can be in normal life".

"Stevie can pretty much do anything, and look after himself when he's on his own."

As for being the first woman to grasp the Melbourne Cup title - on only her second attempt - Michelle wasted no time making her point about the role of women in sport.

"It's such a chauvinistic sport," she said in a trackside interview, saying even some of Prince of Penzance's owners had not wanted her to ride him in the race.

"I want to say to everyone else, 'get stuffed', because women can do anything and we can beat the world."

On the winner's podium, she thanks her family and horse trainer Darren Weir, but reserved special thanks for Steven.

"So excited that I could get the job done for him today. So thank you very much. It's just unbelievable."

More on this story