It’s called the race that stops a nation and when Australia did grind to a halt at 3pm on Tuesday, it witnessed history being made as Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup in the race’s storied 155-year history.
Payne guided the New Zealand-bred Prince of Penzance to victory in a stunning ride at a sunny Flemington Racecourse that upset a host of more-fancied contenders.
The Ballarat-trained gelding started as a rank outsider yet made light of the 100-1 odds with a late move down the home straight, holding off the fast-finishing Max Dynamite, ridden by Frankie Dettori, by three-quarters of a length to secure victory. Criterion came in third.
“It’s like a dream come true, this horse is awesome,” said Payne, whose only previous Melbourne Cup ride was on the late Bart Cummings-trained Allez Wonder in 2009.
“What he has been through, unbelievable training to get him here like this today. This is everybody’s dream as a jockey in Australia and now probably the world.
“My sister Margaret and I both had a feeling we would win this race. It’s such a chauvinistic sport, a lot of the owners wanted to kick me off. Everyone else can get stuffed [who] think women aren’t good enough.
“From the 1000 [metres] everything just opened up. I got onto the back of Trip To Paris, he took me into the race. I was actually clipping his heels, I was going that good but I didn’t want to check him and then he just got into the straight and burst clear and it was unreal.”
Payne, 30, comes from rich racing stock with five sisters and two brothers also having pursed careers in the saddle. Another brother, Steve, who has Down’s Sydnrome, is employed by Weir as a strapper in his stables.
Of his history-making jockey, trainer Weir said, “I couldn’t thank her enough. What a beautiful ride and what a great family.”
A cloud was cast over the celebrations though, as Melbourne Cup veteran Red Cadeaux, a three-times runner-up and a popular horse at Flemington, failed to finish and was taken from the track in an ambulance at the end of the race.
Flemington Racecourse later confirmed that the English-trained stayer incurred a suspected fetlock injury and was taken to the veterinary clinic for assessment. The other 23 horses safely finished the 3,200m course.
Dettori’s second-place aboard Max Dynamite was soured when raced officials charged him at the conclusion of the race with careless riding. The Italian was handed a one-month ban and fined $20,000.
Japanese horse Fame Game, one of 11 foreign raiders on the start list, was the pre-race favourite, ahead of Red Cadeaux’s stable-mate Trip to Paris, who finished fourth, and Preferment.
Fame Game, who had drifted in the immediate run-up to the race, never looked like justifying his price and finished 13th. Big Orange, who led the race by as much as two lengths early on, took fifth place with Gust of Wind in sixth.
Prince of Penzance had geared up for Tuesday’s race with a second-placed finish in the Moonee Valley Cup and Weir, who has trained a Cup runner-up in the past – She’s Archie – was confident of making waves at Flemington.
“We thought we had him there in great shape and we thought we were realistically a top 10 chance,” Weir said. “It’s a lifetime dream come true, it’s an unbelievable thing to happen to anyone.”