The victory of a 100-1 chance in the ‘race that stops a nation’ would have been momentous in itself but this year’s Melbourne Cup had the extra special ingredient of a triumphant female jockey. Step forward Michelle Payne, for it was she who guided Prince Of Penzance to first place in the two-mile contest, galloping past Gai Waterhouse to (temporarily) become the first lady of Australian racing.
Payne, 30, is from a racing family and was able to share her extraordinary moment in the spotlight with brother Stevie, the strapper/groom to Prince Of Penzance at trainer Darren Weir’s stable. Bronwen Healy’s beautiful photographs capture history being made.
In racing globally, few women have managed to garner the kind of headlines that Payne generated in just under three and a half minutes at Flemington. Taking that particular race, only four females other than Payne – in 155 years – have ever secured rides in the Melbourne Cup. You can’t win if you’re not in, as they say.
Hayley Turner’s recent retirement leaves a vacancy – or perhaps an opportunity – for someone else to pick up the baton
Six years ago, Michelle Payne tried her luck in Britain. During a short stint she had 18 mounts and one winner – supplied by fellow Aussie Jane Chapple-Hyam. Since then Hayley Turner has advanced the cause of her sex in British racing, winning two Group 1 sprints (plus a Grade 1 in the USA) and becoming only the second woman to ride in the Derby, however her recent retirement leaves a vacancy – or perhaps an opportunity – for someone else to pick up the baton.
Lizzie Kelly won’t be winning the Derby any time soon – as a devotee of the winter game it is Cheltenham, not Epsom, which fuels her dreams of making it to the higher echelons of her chosen profession.
The 22-year-old conditional admits she is still learning her trade and needs to improve “all aspects of her riding”, however her association with the Devon stable of stepfather Nick Williams – a trainer who focuses on quality, not quantity – enabled Kelly to win two high-profile handicap hurdles last season and, only last month, failed by the narrowest of margins to land the Grade 1 Grand Prix d’Automne at Auteuil on Aubusson.
Kelly is now attached to Neil King’s yard in Wiltshire and would love the opportunity to ride for more trainers – however she knows there is plenty of hard work ahead if she is to persuade people she is as capable in the saddle as her colleagues.
“Looking around the weighing room, I know I am better than some and worse than others,” she tells Tim Richards (Talking To, page 48-54).
“I am sure there are some trainers who don’t want to use Lizzie Kelly, not because they don’t like her riding but because she is a woman.”
Kelly was disappointed that her ‘Saturday’ wins on Tea For Two and Aubusson last term didn’t produce an increase in demand for her services, however they did serve another very important purpose.
“One thing they did was concrete my self-confidence; I now know I can compete on the big days under a lot of pressure against the top jockeys and pull it off.
“My confidence after those wins was sky high. It was a great feeling and it’s nice to know I’ve got those two big races on the board.”
AP McCoy recently said that women jockeys should receive an allowance in races on the basis that men are physically stronger and therefore at an advantage. No sooner had he made his remarks, Nina Carberry responded – not in print but on the racecourse, riding a superb double at Cheltenham.
Kelly said that when she was growing up, the likes of Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh “were an inspiration and a target – I convinced myself I would be like them, only better.” She is now pursuing that dream.
Granted more opportunities from owners and trainers, hopefully Kelly can one day emulate Michelle Payne or Hayley Turner and be the talk of a nation.