Australia: Melbourne Cup winning jockey Michelle Payne proves a chauvinistic industry totally wrong Print E-mail
 Melbourne ~ Tuesday November 3, 2015

Melbourne Cup 2015: Winning jockey Michelle Payne hits back at doubters after making history on Prince of Penzance

'Get stuffed!' Melbourne Cup winning jockey makes history

Scroll down to also read "Handicapped: it’s men who block female jockeys"

By Tom Decent /Journalist

First, Michelle Payne made history by becoming the first woman to ride a Melbourne Cup winner. Then she let everyone know what she was thinking.

Michelle Payne, the first woman jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, has hit back at her doubters after riding Prince of Penzance to victory at Flemington.

Payne was ecstatic after the race and could hardly contain her excitement after riding the 100-1 outsider to victory at Flemington.

  Michelle Payne after making history (Joe Armao)

Payne said it was a dream come true and was proud to prove people wrong in a sport she described as "chauvinistic sport" while also telling the doubters to "get stuffed".

"To think that Darren Weir has given me a go and it's such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me, and I put in all the effort I could and galloped him all I could because I thought he had what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup and I can't say how grateful I am to them," Payne told Channel Seven after the race. "I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.

"This is everybody's dream as a jockey in Australia and now probably the world. And I dreamt about it from when I was five years old and there is an interview from my school friends, they were teasing me about, when I was about seven, and I said, "I'm going to win the Melbourne Cup" and they always give me a bit of grief about it and I can't believe we've done it.

"I was lying in bed last night and I thought about what it would be like if I was talking to you after this race.

"When I wanted this horse as a three-year-old, he won here and I thought this is a Melbourne Cup horse and he just felt like he would run the two mile out that strong but far out, I didn't think he'd be that strong. He was still towing me into the straight. He just burst to the front and he was powering through, it's just unbelievable."

Payne was full of praise for the team around her and said she was surprised by how good a run she got.

"It's just unreal that we're here today you know," Payne said. "Coming down the straight the first time he became a bit steady I had to give him a bit of a dig which I didn't want to do, but I had to hold up my spot where I wanted to be.

"We travelled quite strong the whole way, he didn't get to rest, but he was still in a rhythm and from the 100 everything opened up. I got onto the back of Trip To Paris, she took me into the race; I was actually clipping his heels I was going that good. Then he got into the straight and he burst clear, it was unreal."
 Melbourne ~ Thursday October 29, 2015

Handicapped: it’s men who block female jockeys

Other states offer female jockeys more opportunities but even so there are huge gender-based pay discrepancies.

By Eric Dyrenfurth

 Illustration: John Spooner

F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic 1926 novel The Great Gatsby depicts the greedy, uncaring corruption of an energetic, individualist  American dream, with the road between New York and the fictional hamlet of West Egg shrinking away from a desolate wasteland of  industrial detritus. This Valley of Ashes is inhabited by the working poor, while West Egg's ostentatious mansions are rented in summer by party-throwing nouveau riche. These include Fitzgerald's eponymous, pink-suited but ever hopeful anti-hero Jay Gatsby, who made his dough from match-fixing venality.  

Now re-locate yourself to the Melbourne spring, and horse racing at Flemington, "the celebration that stops a nation" boastfully attracting much business to Victoria. Brash, drunken babble rocks the glassed-in grandstands and opulent lawn marquees, where gambling crowds jostle, and media celebrities gush over fashionable attire.

Look beyond the fence-line of yellow roses to the lush, grassy track. Visualise the yawning gulf between the meretricious dazzle of race-going humanity in the stands, and lurking unseen dangers faced by risk-taking riders and mounts scudding over a deceptively calm ocean of turf. Wonder too why behind their colourful silks those riders are predominantly male.

Michelle Payne riding La Passe wins her race during Caulfield Cup Day on October 17. (Michael Dodge) 

Don't forget, in rushing to the beverage bars, that safety risks and jockey gender inequality, however rhetorically minimised, are traded off against sometimes greedy racing industry interests. These create jobs, fuel the delirious passion of owners, sustain commitment of trainers and jockeys, cream gambling dollars for government revenues, and pleasure the punting public. However reluctantly, dredge from the back of your mind the cobalt corruption scandals engulfing a few leading trainers, while unknown others threaten the lives of those safeguarding racing industry integrity.
Remember not only horses that died last Cup Day, but the tragic deaths of several fallen jockeys on far away country tracks. Many of these were young women, their lofty aspirations dashed, but with apprentice training ranks now startlingly overflowing with a majority of girls. Female riders continue to dream of success, perhaps ironically exposing themselves to greater risks, given much fewer opportunities than men, particularly on carnival days.

As a microcosm of today's male-dominated racing industry, move on to the barren environs of the racing tribunals, remote from the tumult of the track, as they hear jockey and trainer appeals from racing steward decisions. Presided over by crusty, long-retired former judges, the tribunals are aided by a roomful of men: stewards, their advisers, and rugged barristers, with nary a woman in sight except for officials.

Jockey Linda Meech. (Anthony Johnson )

Gender discrimination against female jockeys remains rife in Victorian racing. Trainers and their owners on major race days almost exclusively choose from a rigid hierarchy of male riders. An outstanding exception is premier trainer Darren Weir's long-standing support for senior jockey Michelle Payne. After recent brilliant winning rides for Weir in top-class races, he commented that a lot of owners "aren't that keen to put her on, but she's a great rider".

Such archaic prejudices are buttressed by over-emphasising rider strength in close finishes, with scant attention to attributes all elite athletes possess: rigorous pursuit of gym muscle building, stamina, obsessive determination to succeed, competitiveness, extra-smart tactical nous, expert-assisted race analysis, split-second decision-making under extreme pressure, and empathetic relationships with horses and their human carers – qualities not confined to champion male jockeys.

Nevertheless, senior female jockey engagements, particularly in Victoria, are largely limited to provincial circuits, far less lucrative than city meetings. Leading trainer Peter Moody often uses prolific winner Linda Meech, but mostly banishes her to country tracks on Saturdays. At the spring carnival, a flotilla of Sydney male jockeys descends on Melbourne, with Payne the sole female rider for one race on Cox Plate Day, and Payne and star Sydney rider Kathy O'Hara the only women in sight for Caulfield Cup Day.  

Michelle Payne at this year's Warrnambool May Racing Carnival. (Damian White)

Payne is about to ride Prince of Penzance (POP) for Weir in just her second Melbourne Cup start, the first being for Cup legend Bart Cummings. Payne rode POP to victory in last year's Moonee Valley Cup, running a narrow second on him in this year's Cup, after a dashing front-running display.

Outside Victoria, equal opportunities for female riders are more promising, with Tegan Harrison and Alannah Fancourt near the top of the Brisbane premiership, Caitlin Jones and Clare Lindop similarly placed in Adelaide, with Lucy Warwick second in Perth.

Victorian and NSW racing authorities must change owner and trainer cultures with far greater nimbleness if the current crop of female apprentices are to reach their professional pinnacle. Increased female patronage at flagging carnival crowds might also follow.

Finally, the lack of equal riding opportunities causes big pay discrepancies. Comparing 30-year-old Payne with leading rider Mark Zahra, 33, in the first three months of the racing year, Payne earned about $35,000 from prize money (excluding fees per ride), while Zahra earned $120,000. It's a similar story for young gun riders Jackie Beriman, 20, and Chris Parnham, 18, the former earning $13,000 and the latter $40,000 over the same period. These stark pay contrasts desperately need remedy.  

Fitzgerald's Gatsby ends on an optimistic note, beating on against the current, despite the fading American dream, where "tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further ... And one fine morning ..." – there will indeed be full equality between male and female jockeys.  

Eric Dyrenfurth is an administrative and constitutional lawyer, and a  long-time horse racing enthusiast.