Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday when she rode the 100-1 outsider Prince of Penzance to victory in Australia’s richest horse race.
Payne pushed the six-year-old Prince of Penzance through a narrow gap in the straight and surged ahead of the Irish stayer Max Dynamite, ridden by Frankie Dettori, and New Zealand-owned Criterion, ridden by Michael Walker, for the victory.
Australian bookmakers Ladbrokes paid a winning dividend of AU$101 ($72) on Prince of Penzance, who is owned by six self-described “small-fry owners”: a podiatrist, two engineers, an IT consultant, a solutions expert and a producer. The owners paid AU$5,000 ($3,500) each to buy the horse.
Payne has ridden the horse, trained at Melbourne by Darren Weir, throughout its career and said she always considered it a potential Melbourne Cup winner.
“To think that Darren Weir has given me a go and it’s such a chauvinistic sport,” Payne said. “I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off and (owner) John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me.
“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.”
Prince of Penzance has battled sickness and injury throughout its career, but still managed to accumulate AU$600,000 ($428,000) in prize money to qualify for a start at the AU$6.2 million ($4.4 million) Melbourne Cup.
If it hadn’t been for Payne — the only female rider in the race and only the fifth in history to gain a Cup ride — the horse would barely have been mentioned in pre-race commentary. The Japanese-trained stayer Fame Game started as favorite, but fell far behind in the 24-strong field and was unable to finish among the placings.
“He just burst to the front and I’ve never yelled so loud at a horse in all my life,” Payne said. “This is everybody’s dream as a jockey in Australia.”
Weir, who trains in the small town of Wangoom near Melbourne, praised Payne’s outstanding ride against some of the world’s best jockeys.
“I kept saying to the owners, ‘It’s hard enough to get into the race, let alone win it,’“ he said. “Just enjoy the day and hope like hell we can run into the top 10.”
The Melbourne Cup, which dates to 1861, is known as “the race that stops a nation.” Australians traditionally stop work at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November to watch the two-mile race at Melbourne’s Flemington racecourse.
Last year, Australians bet almost AU$800 million ($571 million) on the race and betting was expected to exceed that amount this year.