The horse racing industry has long been dominated by male jockeys. However, Michelle Payne has defied the odds to become one of the most successful female jockeys in the industry.
Michelle Payne was born on September 29, 1985, in Victoria, Australia. Her mother died when she was just six months old, leaving her father to raise her and her nine siblings on a farm in Miners Rest. Payne, along with seven of her siblings, became a horse jockey, with her first competitive race at 15.
From a young age, Payne dreamed of becoming a winning jockey. She would tell her friends that she would win the Melbourne Cup one day. Her dreams did come true, as she made history winning Australia’s biggest horse race.
Stats about Michelle Payne:
|Height:||4 ft 10 in (1.52 m)|
|Weight:||50.5 kg (7.95 st; 111 lb)|
|Born:||29 September, 1985|
Here are eight facts about Michelle Payne.
1. Her Dad Trained the First Horse She Won On
Michelle Payne’s dad, Paddy, is a horse trainer. Her father trained the very first horse she won on, Reigning. She won the race at Ballarat Racecourse, right next to her hometown, kicking off her successful racing career.
2. Michelle Payne Had Life Threatening Injuries That Almost Ended Her Riding Career
At just 18 years old, Payne suffered serious injuries while riding. The accident occurred in 2004 at Sandown Racecourse in Melbourne just after the end of a race.
The horse Payne was on, Vladivostok, who finished 11th in the Torbek Handicap, suddenly fell 100 meters after the winning post. The fall sent Payne headfirst into the turf, resulting in a nasty fall. Payne ended up with a fractured skull and bruising to her brain.
Fortunately, Payne was able to make a full recovery. After rehabilitation, she was able to get back in the saddle. However, she suffered serious falls again in 2015 and 2016. Her fall in 2016 required pancreatic surgery, which led to another long road to recovery.
One of Payne’s sisters, Brigid, who was also a jockey, had a serious fall when horseback riding in 2007. Sadly, her sister passed away six months later from a heart attack caused by a seizure, which doctors believe was caused due to a result of her injuries.
3. Her Brother is Her Strapper
Michelle’s brother, Stevie, works as her strapper. Stevie, who has Down’s Syndrome, helps groom and saddle up Michelle’s horses.
As the two youngest siblings, Michelle and Stevie have a close relationship. Stevie helps look after around 20 horses at Michelle’s farm, MJ Payne Racing. In addition to helping on the farm, he also travels to races with her as well.
Also, read our similar guide 6 interesting facts about Stevie Payne to learn about this incredible sister and brother duo.
4. Michelle Payne is the First and Only Female Jockey to Win the Melbourne Cup
Included in the best female jockeys ever list, Michelle Payne has won over 700 races in her career. However, her crowning achievement is her 2015 win in the Melbourne Cup.
Payne’s win in the Melbourne Cup is historic, as she is the first and only female to win the race. In addition, she became just the fourth female to compete in this coveted race.
“It’s such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners wanted to kick me off,” said Payne.
The Melbourne Cup, which takes place at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, is Australia’s most famous horse race. Over 80,000 spectators come annually to watch some of the best racehorses in the world compete for a whopping $8 million purse.
With a long odds of 100-1, Payne rode six-year-old gelding Prince of Penzance to the win. Her victory was exciting, as she had a long relationship with the horse she was riding. Champion jockey Frankie Dettori came in second place aboard Max Dynamite.
In her historic win, Payne wore silks with the colors purple, white and green. These colors happen to be the colors of the suffragette movement. According to The Women’s Social and Political Union, purple symbolizes dignity, white symbolizes purity, and green represents hope.
5. She Made a Film About Her Victory Winning the Melbourne Cup
After her historic Melbourne Cup, Payne’s victory was made into a feature film called Ride Like A Girl. Her inspiring story hit theaters in September 2019, bringing in $11.5 million in the box office.
The film tells the incredible journey it took Payne to achieve her goal of winning the Melbourne Cup. In the movie, Payne was played by actress Teresa Palmer and her father was played by Sam Neill. Her brother, Stevie, starred in the film as himself.
6. She is the Only Person to Hold a Dual Trainer/Jockey License in Victoria
In addition to being a fantastic jockey, Payne is also a trainer. She is not the only trainer in her family, as her father and her brother, Patrick, are horse trainers as well.
Currently, she is the only person in Victoria to hold a dual trainer/jockey license. Payne took out her training license in 2016. She has trained over 30 winners, nearly all of them in the country circuit. She is making the transition from being a jockey into a full-time trainer.
“It (training) has got its challenges but I love training on the farm at home in Ballarat, Stevie is there every day and it’s a really good environment,” says Payne.
7. Michelle Payne Was Awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia
In 2021, Payne received the Medal of the Order of Australia. She won the prestigious honor thanks to her service to the horse racing industry.
Payne has also received other top honors throughout her career. In 2016, she became the first female to receive a Chairman’s Award and be inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. This all happened just six months after winning the Melbourne Cup.
Payne also had the honor to be featured on the April 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. She also won the magazine’s ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ award. 2016 continued to be a big year for Payne, as she was also recognized by the Australian Institute of Sport for ‘Best Sporting Moment of the Year’. In addition, she received the 2016 Victorian Honour Roll of Women and was awarded InStyle Magazine’s ‘Women of Style: Sport Award’.
In 2017, Payne was awarded The International Longines Ladies Awards in Washington. The award celebrates women across the globe who have consistently achieved at the highest level within the equestrian world.
8. She Operates Her Training Facility in Ballarat and Queensland
MJ Payne Racing is based out of Nottingham Farm, located at Ballarat Turf Club. In March 2021, Payne announced that she would be expanding her training operation to Queensland.
Nikita Beriman, Payne’s longtime friend and fellow jockey will head up the new Queensland location. Payne is hopeful the operation will be up and running by this year’s Winter Carnival.
“I’ve always loved Queensland racing and the Sunshine Coast is a really good course which will add a new dynamic for our owners,” Payne said.
Her location in Ballarat is very much based on the New Zealand style of stable, with both day yards and boxes. Her facility also has training tracks and paddocks, as well as being conveniently located right next to Ballarat Racecourse.
Payne operation is a small, boutique stable, allowing her to be hands-on with her horses. She trains as well as sells Thoroughbred racehorses.
Currently, it appears that Michelle Payne is single. Payne tends to not reveal much of her private life outside of horse racing.
Michelle Payne resides out of Miners Rest, Ballarat, where she grew up. She lives and trains horses next door to her father.
With the new Queensland addition to her stables, Payne will continue to run her home base operation at Ballarat. Nikita Beriman will be in charge of running the Queensland location of her training program.
Michelle Payne’s siblings are Stephen (Stevie), Cathy, Patrick, Maree, Micheal, Therese, Bernadette, Margaret, Andrew, and the late Brigid. Michelle is the youngest of all her siblings.
Of the 10 Payne children, Brigid, Patrick, Maree, Therese, Andrew, Bernadette, Cathy, and Michelle became jockeys. Patrick then went on to become a trainer as well. Stevie works with Michelle daily to help care for the horses at her training facility in Ballarat.
Read our guide to Stevie Payne here.