Michelle Payne: Melbourne Cup jockey on life after Flemington triumph

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport
Michelle Payne after her Melbourne Cup win
Payne became a household name in Australia after her Melbourne Cup win

And the prize for understatement of 2016 goes to… Michelle Payne.

"I've packed in a fair bit in the 30 years I've had on earth," says the history-making Australian jockey.

Her mother died when she was six months old, she has lost two of her siblings and another has Down's syndrome.

Payne overcame a career-threatening injury to become the only female rider to win Australia's most famous race, has a best-selling autobiography and her life story is being made into a movie.

Here, she talks about a remarkable six months, the family who have inspired her, telling chauvinists to get stuffed, and her "hilarious" chats with fellow jockey Frankie Dettori just before and after the big race.

Listen: Hear more from pioneering Payne in BBC World Service interview

First, the movie...

The life story of Payne, who made history in November by winning the Melbourne Cup on 100-1 shot Prince Of Penzance, is being made into a major film.

Actress and producer Rachel Griffiths, who starred in Muriel's Wedding and Six Feet Under, is producing and directing the project.

Actress Rachel Griffiths
Griffiths starred in the Australian TV series Brothers and Sisters

"We have just signed up with Richard Keddie and Rachel Griffiths who will produce and direct the movie. They have got some writers who are just working on the script and the plan after that is to approach some actors," explained Payne.

"It's probably a couple of years away, but it will be pretty funny."

So who would she like to play her as the leading lady?

"I've got absolutely no idea so I'll leave that up to the experts."

The bond with her brother Stevie

Michelle Payne and brother Stevie (right) celebrate the Melbourne Cup victory
Payne and brother Stevie (right) celebrate the Melbourne Cup victory

It seems the only person playing themselves in the film will be the jockey's brother Stevie, who has Down's syndrome.

Stevie helped prepare Prince Of Penzance, trained by Darren Weir, and charmed the watching public with his verdict on Michelle's achievement: "Great win, great ride, 10 out of 10."

"Everybody has fallen in love with Stevie. The funniest thing is that Rachel is really keen for Stevie to play himself and get in some acting lessons so I think that would be absolutely fantastic and so does the rest of my family," she said.

"Everywhere I've gone and met people who have Down's syndrome they are so grateful for Stevie and the awareness he's raised. It's just proven the heights that can be reached."

Eight of his nine siblings have ridden as jockeys at Australian racecourses.

"Get stuffed - women can do anything"

After her landmark victory, Payne caused a stir with this comment: "I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world."

So where did that line come from?

"To be honest I did lie in bed the night before, I thought I better be prepared in case I happened to win - who I might thank and what I might say," she answered.

"I didn't think about telling everyone to get stuffed I have to say. I guess in that moment, having won our greatest race - the race that stops a nation - it felt like a good time to stand up and tell all the doubters, and all those people who had laughed at me along the way and said we couldn't match it with the boys, that we could.

"It's a tough world but female jockeys have been successful so many times that hopefully the perception of riding against the boys will change and we will gain more opportunities."

Michelle Payne's tweet with a cartoon from the Canberra Times
Payne tweeted a cartoon from the Canberra Times

Payne said she was the fifth female jockey to ride in the race and hopes her success brings more chances.

"We've had three female jockeys win three of the majors at that spring carnival, all on 100-1 shots. It really frustrates me that we don't get more of an opportunity.

"I'm just glad that my comments opened the eyes of a lot of people. It's all been positive and no-one has said you shouldn't have said that.

"Even the people who used to give me a hard time have eaten a bit of humble pie and they have been supporting me since."

Male jockeys v female jockeys

Payne rejects the argument that female jockeys can struggle against "stronger" male counterparts.

"It's about technique and getting your horse to stretch for you and to give you everything that it's got," said Payne, who is set to ride at Royal Ascot for the first time next month.

"It's not just about the finish either. It's about the first half of the race, getting the horse into a rhythm, to settle, not wasting energy at the barriers.

"The female touch is a lot softer than the guys and some horses just respond better to that. Who's to say we're not stronger in the finish anyway?

"There are still doubters out there who will say don't put a girl on, they're not as good as the boys. It makes me really angry. It's nice to prove those people wrong."

Banter with Frankie Dettori

One male jockey who wished her well, and finished second to her, was one of the world's most celebrated riders - Frankie Dettori.

After Stevie had drawn the plum inside number of stall one, it meant his sister - in her second Melbourne Cup ride after finishing 16th on Allez Wonder in 2009 - was next to Dettori in number two. It was also their finishing order in the race.

Frankie Dettori (pink) in second looks over at winner Michelle Payne and Prince Of Penzance
Frankie Dettori (pink) in second on Max Dynamite looks over at winner Michelle Payne and Prince Of Penzance

"I was not one bit nervous, I was ready. Going down to the barriers I was just overwhelmed with how well Prince of Penzance was prepared and spot on for the day," she said.

"Straight after the finishing line, Frankie congratulated me. It was so funny because we'd drawn barrier one and two, he was beside me, and we'd loaded fairly early so we had a bit of time to chat.

"He was just being friendly and asking what we were up to that night after the Cup, and I said 'I'm going to be celebrating what about yourself?' and he said 'Oh well I hope you are'.

"It was hilarious when we pulled up beside each other as first and second in the Melbourne Cup, having shared that beforehand."

Watch: Animated audio of Payne's exchange with Dettori

Prince and the X-Factor

Prince Of Penzance was the horse who nearly died, but recovered from a major operation nine months before the big race.

"I had great faith in Prince Of Penzance, from the moment I rode him for the first time," recalled the jockey.

"I thought 'wow' this horse has got something about him I hadn't really felt before. He seemed to have that bit of X-Factor.

"The lead-up to the Cup in the final month was just amazing. Everything seemed to be falling into place. Prince Of Penzance had such an up and down career himself, he had surgery to remove bone chips, he had colic and nearly died having surgery in the February leading up to the Cup where he had his intestines out on the table.

"In the final weeks he was peaking at the right time and going better than he ever had. I really felt we had a genuine chance.

"It's an incredible fairytale how it all worked out with my brother Stevie picking the barrier one. The run of the race we had, it was a dream come true."

From early on in the two-mile (3200m) contest, Payne felt she was on the winner, but made sure she did not get carried away.

"The focus was to get over the line but in the last 300m I think I knew victory was ours. That was the best feeling in the world, going over that finishing line in front," she said.

A six-month whirlwind

Payne with tennis star Federer
Payne has been introduced to tennis star Roger Federer and Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall since her triumph

"It's really turned my life around. You wouldn't believe winning one race could change your whole world but it has," said Payne.

"Meeting Roger Federer was a dream come true, the ultimate sports star and my mum was Swiss-bred and he's somebody I have admired for so long."

Her autobiography, Life As I Know It, has topped the non-fiction best-seller lists in Australia,

"The fact that people line up in hundreds to get their photo taken or book signed, that really blows me away," she added.

"To go from being a really normal person to having that happen is so incredible. I find it really quite funny that it has changed my life that much.

"The most amazing thing will be going to a cinema and watching a movie that is going to be made about the Cup and my life. That's really overwhelming."

My mother, my father, my inspirations

Michelle was named after her brother Michael, who died when he was just a few days old.

She was aged six months when her mother Mary was killed in a car accident, leaving her father Paddy to raise the family.

In 2007, tragedy struck again when older sister Brigid died at the age of 36 after suffering an aneurysm and heart attack eight months after falling from her horse.

"In life you run into people who help shape you and help make you a stronger person. I guess number one would be my dad - imagine losing your wife and the mother of your 11 children.

"It just blows me away how positive his outlook on life is. The older I got, the more I appreciated that. When I've thought that things have been going badly, I think life could always be so much worse. You have to focus on the positives."

In the stalls, aside from chatting to Dettori, she said prayers to her mum, sister, brother and even the late 12-time Melbourne Cup winning trainer Bart Cummins, who gave Payne her first ride in the race.

"I have a strong sense of feeling about my mum being with me all the time. She passed away when I was six months old and my dad always spoke about her and I always felt this connection with her," said the self-confessed "deep thinker".

"I felt like I had all three of them there with me. I definitely felt I had a little help from up there somewhere along the line."

How Australia newspapers covered Michelle Payne's Melbourne Cup win
How Australia newspapers covered Michelle Payne's Melbourne Cup win

What next for the history maker?

Payne plans to carry on riding for a couple of years, would like to settle down and have her own family before turning her attention to training.

"I've been riding flat out for 15 years and given it everything I've got. There's also a lot more to life than just being a jockey so I'm looking forward to enjoying that," she said.

In August, a new licence will mean she can both ride and train horses, and she plans to train a handful to start with.

"That will give me a little bit of an introduction into the life of a trainer. I'm really looking forward to giving that a crack," she said.

Might she one day saddle a Melbourne Cup winner ridden by another female jockey in the ultimate display of girl power?

"That would be absolutely awesome. You never know - that's the beauty about life, wherever it may lead you," she said.

And finally - The last six months in a sentence?

"I would just have to say that it's been an absolutely crazy whirlwind that has changed my life forever."

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