Michelle Payne becomes first female jockey to win Melbourne Cup

The first female jockey has won Australia’s most famous race, the Melbourne Cup.

Michelle Payne was riding New Zealand’s Prince of Penzance, a six-year-old gelding and an outside chance to take a place in the 3,200 meter race.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s a dream come true,” said Payne, minutes after the win. “This is just awesome.”

Ireland’s Max Dynamite, ridden by Frankie Dettori, came second and another New Zealand horse Criterion came third.

According to her ABC racing profile, Payne, 31, is the youngest of 10 children, and the eighth child in the family to have entered racing. Her brother Patrick is a Cox Plate-winning rider and now a successful trainer.

She first competed in the Melbourne Cup in 2009 and is just the fourth female jockey to compete in the race’s history.

Today’s result was a surprise for bookmakers in more ways than one. It was Prince of Penzance’s first attempt at the Melbourne Cup but the Darren Weir-trained horse beat out pre-race favorite Japanese stayer Fame Game.

Challenging stigmas

“It’s nice to be able to dream and that’s what racing is all about,” Payne said later at a press conference.

“It’s a very male-dominated sport and people think we’re not strong enough and all the rest of it blah, blah, blah,” Payne said.

“But you know what? It’s not all about strength. It’s so much more involved with that is getting a horse into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient.”

Payne said she hopes her win will open doors for female jockeys because she believes “that we (females) sort of don’t get enough of a go.”

Gender is not the only prejudice she’s fighting. She’s also been challenging preconceived notions surrounding Down syndrome, a condition her brother Steven has.

Steven, who helped her prepare for the big race, works as her strapper.

“I think it’s great for other people with Down syndrome – to see how capable they can be in normal life,” she told ABC in an interview before the race. “Stevie can pretty much do anything, and look after himself when he’s on his own.”

Millions watching

Millions of Australians were watching the history-making race and tens of thousands had descended on the city’s Flemington Racecourse for a day of drinking, betting and over the top fashion.
Known as “the race that stops a nation,” Australia’s most prestigious thoroughbred horse racing event was especially international in feel this year.

Tuesday’s race saw 24 horses competing for a chance at the $6.2 million Australian (US$4.4 million) in prize money with only one Australian-bred horse in the race, eight-year-old gelding Sertorius.

The annual event is not without controversy — last year’s Cup saw two horses die — but the day is less for hardcore punters than people looking for a raucous, buzzy atmosphere.

The state of Victoria has the day off but the rest of the nation often joins in too — the number of workers who call in sick the next day jumps by 25%, according to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

For many amateur punters, it’s all about the color of the jockey’s silks.

Riders wearing blue have won the most Cups — around a quarter, according to ABC’s Fact Check, which dug through the data since the Cup was first contested in 1861.

And backing a male horse is also a good bet — only 16 Cups have been won by mares.

The horse named as the pre-race favorite has won the Melbourne Cup 34 times out of 154 races, a success rate of 22%.

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