Michelle Payne: Melbourne Cup-winning jockey 'embarrassed' after failed test

Michelle Payne
Michelle Payne is back in Australia after riding at Royal Ascot last week

Trailblazing rider Michelle Payne is "disappointed and embarrassed" after testing positive for a banned substance, says a jockeys' chief.

Payne, the only female rider to win the Melbourne Cup, faces a ban for taking appetite suppressant Phentermine.

Australia Jockeys' Association chairman Des O'Keeffe said she took the drug on her doctor's advice, but failed to check if it was on the banned list.

"She acknowledges that is an error of judgement," he told BBC Sport.

Racing Victoria stewards in Australia will hold an inquiry on Thursday, where Payne is set to admit breaching the rules.

O'Keeffe said he expected her to be given a suspension of about four weeks.

"I've spoken to her at length and she's disappointed and embarrassed by what's happened," he said.

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Melbourne Cup 2015: Michelle Payne dedicates win to female jockeys

Payne took a weight suppressant after returning from a life-threatening fall, he said, and fell foul of the rules when her medication was changed.

"She had a very serious fall 13 months ago where she split her pancreas and had to undergo major surgery. She struggled a little bit more with her weight when she came back," said O'Keeffe.

"The medical advice she had was to try something that didn't breach the rule in any way. It wasn't really working for her and her GP suggested Phentermine, but it's on the banned substance list and the onus is on Michelle to make her GP aware of what she can and can't take.

"She knows she should have been a bit more careful."

A urine sample showed the Australian, who rode at Royal Ascot last week, had the banned substance in her system when tested at the Swan Hill Cup meeting on 11 June.

She rode Kaspersky into fifth place in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot on 20 June and was advised of the test findings and stood down from riding in races and trackwork by Australian stewards on 23 June.

Payne had been scheduled to return to Ascot for the Shergar Cup, racing's team event, on 12 June.

"An absolute star of the sport"

Payne made history in 2015 when she became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, on 100-1 shot Prince Of Penzance.

After her victory, she made headlines with her comment: "I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world."

Michelle Payne with Usain Bolt
Payne pictured with Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt last year

Her life story is being made into a film, produced and directed by actress Rachel Griffiths, who starred in Muriel's Wedding and Six Feet Under.

"This woman is an absolute star of our sport in Australia. She's the most giving person you could want to meet," said O'Keeffe.

"It's not ideal, it's not a major disaster but it's something I'm sure she would rather hadn't happened. It just proves how careful athletes have to be, but I don't think it should tarnish her status as an icon.

"She's been prescribed one medication which hasn't had the outcome the medical team had hoped for so the GP changed her to another one, and she ended up breaching the rules.

"She's been tested many times and never had an issue before. It will be resolved on Thursday and hopefully she can move on with her career as a jockey, and also her transition to training."

Weight issues for jockeys

Many jockeys around the world face a battle with the scales, although O'Keeffe said the majority or Australian riders were comfortable with the weight restrictions.

"The general feeling in the industry here is the weight scale limit here of 54kg (8st 7lb) most riders can manage," he said.

"Having known Michelle throughout her riding career, that would be one or two kilos below her natural weight. With the heavy workload and level of fitness, that has always been achievable.

"There's no doubt since her fall, she hasn't been quite as comfortable at that weight, hence the medical assistance she has sought. It was a flaw in her preparation that she hadn't informed the GP of what was on the banned list."

O'Keefe described the media coverage and reaction to Payne's failed test as "absolutely extraordinary".

"The haters are going to hate and then some people will want to read beyond the first line of the story and understand the circumstances," he said.

"Michelle Payne is an outstanding person who has made a wonderful difference to many charitable organisations since winning the Melbourne Cup."

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