Michelle Payne had that honour after steering long shot Prince of Penzance to a thrilling victory at Flemington.
This year’s Melbourne Cup was described by many experts as the most hard to predict in decades.
And for the first time in 50 years, the race would be run without the involvement of a certain Bart Cummings after the iconic trainer died in August. The famous trophy, won no less than 12 times by Bart, was brought on to the course by his son, Anthony, and grandson James. But once the 3,200-metre race was underway, the pre-race predictions of a wide open race rapidly became reality.
Michelle Payne, who rode Allez Wonder in 2009 for Bart Cummings, has made history of a different kind. Not for Cummings, but for sportswomen everywhere. And the pre-race favourite, Japanese entrant “Fame Game”, wasn’t even involved in the closing stages.
Victorian jockey Payne described her emotion at becoming the first woman jockey to win the world’s richest handicap race.
“You know its a very male-dominated sport and people think we’re not strong enough – you know what? It’s not all about strength. There’s so much more involved with getting the horse into a rhythm, it’s getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient. We don’t get enough of a go and hopefully this will help.”
It was a first Cup victory also for winning trainer Darren Weir who was full of praise and thanks for her horsemanship and her family.
“Absolutely, couldn’t thank her enough. What a beautiful ride, what a great family. They’ve been terrific to me at Ballarat and I can’t thank them enough.”
The Paynes are a renowned racing family steeped in the sport. Michelle is one of 11 siblings with no less than eight of them – six girls and two boys – becoming jockeys. And at Flemington, she was well aware that her achievement could change the racing industry, and some views of what women jockeys are capable of.
Her message to all sportswomen is simply to “follow your dreams.”
“I gave myself a little bit of time last night before I went to sleep to think, if I won the Melbourne Cup what would I say? I thought, ‘Don’t be silly’ but it’s nice to dream and that’s what racing is all about: you can dream about anything.”
There was a sad footnote to the historic race.
Red Cadeaux, a three-time runner-up, had to be taken from Flemington to Werribee Vet hospital for surgery after damaging its leg during the race. Animal protesters were out in force during the day outside Flemington to make the point that as much of a spectacle as the race is, if Red Cadeaux dies, it will be the fourth horse to die in three Melbourne Cups.
But in years to come, today is more likely to be remembered as a Red Letter day for women’s sport in Australia.