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Authors: Michelle Payne

Life As I Know It

BOOK: Life As I Know It
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Michelle Payne
entered racing aged 15, winning her first race in Ballarat on Reigning, a horse trained and owned by her father. She won her first Group 1 race, the 2009 Toorak Handicap, aboard Allez Wonder, trained by Bart Cummings. She rode the same horse in the Caulfield Cup the following week, becoming the third female jockey to ride in this race, and went on to ride Allez Wonder in the Melbourne Cup later that Spring Carnival. She rode Yosei to three Group 1 victories over the next two years.

Michelle became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup in 2015 on the local one-hundred-to-one horse, Prince of Penzance, trained by Darren Weir and strapped by her brother Stevie.

In January 2016 she was named
The Australian
newspaper's Australian of the Year. Film rights to her life story have been sold.

She continues to be a working jockey and hopes to ride in the next Melbourne Cup.

John Harms
is a Melbourne-based writer, historian, and broadcaster. His books include
Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, The Pearl
, and nine editions of
The Footy Almanac
annual. He appears on ABC TV's
. He is the editor of the popular sports writing site

Don't get beat, I've got my money on you

Stevie Payne

‘I was overseas on 3 November 2015, so it was late at night when my phone literally erupted. I received over sixty text messages in under five minutes—friends and colleagues from across Australia and around the world all saying one thing—“Michelle Payne just won the Melbourne Cup”. Australia was on its feet

Michelle's win has changed not only her chosen sport, but the attitudes towards women's participation in all male-dominated sports. It was a watershed moment for sport—not just Australian sport

Her story doesn't begin and end in under four minutes. Michelle celebrated her thirtieth birthday just before her historic win. Every single one of those years has gone into shaping Michelle as a champion in every respect.'

Katie Page, CEO, Harvey Norman

An imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Limited
11–15 Argyle Place South, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia
[email protected]

First published 2016
Text © Michelle Payne, 2016
Design and typography © Melbourne University Publishing Limited, 2016
Images © Michelle Payne and individual contributors

This book is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the
Copyright Act 1968
and subsequent amendments, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means or process whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publishers.

Every attempt has been made to locate the copyright holders for material published in this book. Any person or organisation that may have been overlooked or misattributed may contact the publisher.

Text design and typesetting by Cannon Typesetting
Cover design by Philip Campbell Design
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry


Payne, Michelle, 1985–author.
Life as I know it/Michelle Payne with John Harms.

9780522870145 (paperback)
9780522870152 (ebook)

Payne, Michelle, 1985–
Women jockeys—Australia—Biography.
Horse racing—Australia.
Resilience (Personality trait).
Self-realization in women.
Other Creators/Contributors:
Harms, John, 1962–author.



Going to the barrier

Christmas at the Paynes

Loss and sadness

Playing the cards dealt

A second home

We will do much

A family business

The horse's way

In the saddle

The fallout

Coming a cropper


A jockey's lot

Always a comeback

Dancing with the princes

Gathering the troops

Keeping the faith

The day of all days

What a chance


For Mary Payne

She was mother to eleven children but never lived to see them grow up. Sometimes, to help deal with the sense of loss, I tell myself it is a blessing she didn't face the craziness of bringing up ten children. I miss her every day but I feel she is with me always.

And to Paddy Payne

For being the man he is: light-hearted, jovial, positive—but tough on us, all at the same time. He taught us to be polite and respectful and how to work hard.

To my family, friends and the racing community

For everyone who has supported and believed in me, even those I've disagreed with. Every situation helps me to grow and makes me a better, stronger person.

Thank you.

Going to the barrier

, 2015. I am cantering Prince of Penzance up the Flemington straight towards the barriers. Past the clocktower. I have just left the mounting yard and walked Prince down along the roses. Darren Weir had wished me luck as he legged me up. And Maddie Raymond and my brother Stevie, the strappers, also sent us on our way. Stevie is already a hero. At the barrier draw on Saturday evening he picked number one. You champion.

I am as calm as Prince. We have become great mates since his debut in front of a handful of racegoers among the gum trees at Stawell in country Victoria in March 2013. He has grown up so much. He looks magnificent—fit, athletic. I can't believe how relaxed he is but so energetic at the same time. Gee, Darren's a good trainer. This horse is spot on.

He rolls along easily; his action is loose. He's as prepared as he can possibly be, and ready to give his best, and I have every faith he will. I love this horse. I believe in this horse.

It's a cracking field: horses prepared by some of the world's best trainers, ridden by some of the world's finest jockeys. And they're trying, just as hard as we are, but I really believe we'll be right there in the finish.

It's a beautiful day. Big blue sky. A few wispy clouds. The slightest breeze. Perfect racing conditions.

The crowd on the lawn cheer and applaud in the sunshine. They are at the Melbourne Cup! Not a care in mind. Drinking. Eating. Cheering. Hoping.

People yell at us.

‘Go, Michelle!'

‘Go, Prince.'

Not many have backed the Prince. He is an outsider. One hundred to one. Attention is elsewhere. The money is on the international horses.

The Japanese horse Fame Game, the favourite, is up ahead. I can see Ed Dunlop's Trip to Paris. I look at the much-loved Red Cadeaux, and Frankie Dettori on Max Dynamite. Brett Prebble, my sister Maree's husband, is on Bondi Beach. And to my right is Kerrin McEvoy, my sister Cathy's husband, on Excess Knowledge.

I have a lot of sisters and brothers dotted about the place. Wherever they are, they are watching this race. Australia's race. And I am in it; we are in it.

Stevie was so earnest in the mounting yard, and so funny.

‘Don't get beat,' he said, as I headed off. ‘I've got my money on you.'

Stevie, strapping a Cup horse that his sister is riding. The two of us, who shared a bed all those years ago before we went to school. Stevie, who Dad always called The Little Boy. And me, His Little Girl.

Dad is at Home in Ballarat, watching on our TV, perched on top of some old encyclopaedias on the cabinet. He's by himself, with
a cup of tea, I bet. Wishing me a safe ride and the best ride I can deliver. My mother, his great love, is with him in spirit.

My old school friends, the Loreto girls, are scattered, some in marquees here at the track, some at Cup Day functions elsewhere, some at home. Jockey friends sit in their rooms at racetracks watching on. They would love to be taking one down to the barriers. Their time will come. I am the one feeling blessed today.

I canter past Craig Newitt on Sertorius, the only horse at longer odds than us. Stevie and I sat with his owner at the barrier draw. Such a lovely man and just as excited as us to be in the Cup, even if neither of us is fancied. We've earned our places.

Craig and I catch a glimpse of some people on the track. They've been tackled by security. We're laughing as we approach the barriers, wondering what has gone on there. We explain what we've just seen to the other jockeys and barrier attendants milling around behind the start. We assume they're streakers but we later learn they're protesters who've handcuffed themselves to the inside running rail. They're taken away.

We continue to walk around at the back of the barriers, waiting to be loaded. Corey Mallyon, one of the two official starters, is calling out the jockeys and their barriers in order. I will be the first horse called. Glen Darrington, my attendant, offers me some water and I take it from him thankfully. I'm so thirsty.

We are called to load and Glen leads Prince and me into barrier one. It's going to be a bit of a wait while the others are loaded. Frankie Dettori brings Max Dynamite into barrier two. We have a friendly chat. I must be relaxed.

Bart Cummings pops into my mind for a moment. I have a feeling he would want me to do well.

The outside horses are being loaded.

I am quiet.

Alone now.


I think of my mother.

I just know she is with me, as well as my sister Brig and brother Michael. I can feel they're up there watching over me. Prince has a few of us riding with him today.

Jockeys call out.

Barrier five rears; we wait for it to settle. They call out from his stall he's okay. Paul Didham the starter awaits the all-clear from the other starter, Corey Mallyon.

We wait for the all clear, then …


Prince of Penzance … dawdles out of the barrier. We've missed the start by three lengths.

In the field of twenty-four, we are last.

Christmas at the Paynes

are spread around the world for most of the year, at Christmas all my sisters and brothers and their families make an effort to go back Home, as we call our place at Miners Rest just outside Ballarat. Mum and Dad bought it in the early 1980s, when they decided to settle in Australia. To come back Home means so much to all of us, especially Dad. He always says how happy it makes him when he sees us all together, getting on so well.

It's a simple family home with stables and yards that back onto the Ballarat Racecourse. I grew up there—one of eleven kids.

It's quiet these days, with only Dad and Stevie living in the house, and me staying over from time to time. But on Christmas Day it is filled with the laughter and happiness (and mayhem) of our childhood. It is

People often say we are a racing family and I know what they mean. Racing has been our lives. It's central to who we are—to who I am. But, before everything, we're a family.

By Christmas Eve one or more of my sisters and their families will most likely be staying in the house, having travelled from overseas or interstate. In 2015 it was Cathy and her family from Sydney. She helped get the place ready.

BOOK: Life As I Know It
12.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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