THE Melbourne Cup, the richest race in the Southern Hemisphere, also known as the ‘race that stops the nation’, produced a huge shock on Tuesday morning when 100/1 chance Prince of Penzance stormed home to win under jockey Michelle Payne.
It was the first time a female jockey has won Australia’s most celebrated race and arguably, the first time a female jockey has won the flagship race of any large racing country. A Grand National still eludes our female jockeys despite recent efforts by Nina Carberry, Carrie Ford and, the best of them all, Katie Walsh who finished third on Seabass in 2012. It’s a similar story in the USA, with Rosie Napravnik a Breeders Cup winner (an American flagship festival) but no female Kentucky Derby victor.
By no means was Melbourne Cup victory ever seriously considered likely by connections of huge outsider Prince of Penzance, but Michelle Payne has handed female jockeys a huge boost by not just battling the odds, but also by overcoming the barriers she faces.
What does it mean for the sport? Unlike the majority of sports, female jockeys have historically received no allowances to their male counterparts but compete on equal terms. The question of whether this is fair has been raised far more seriously of late, with the announcement of two leading British jockeys retiring before their expected departure, Group 1 winning Hayley Turner and Racheal Kneller.
There are two viewpoints: firstly, women shouldn’t be seen as officially inferior to men and given ‘allowances’ as a result, belittling their horsemanship. On the other hand many people will argue, including Racheal Kneller, that women are simply never going to receive riding equality without some intervention: “I’ve actually rung trainers myself and they have said they don’t want a girl on it”. It’s an argument worth much further debate.
Despite Michelle Payne’s historic success it wasn’t half of the story in Melbourne. She also in part has to thank her brother, Stevie Payne, stable-lad of Prince of Penzance who picked out of the hat the plum stall for her to start from: stall 1. A sufferer with Down Syndrome, his emotion captivated audiences globally when interviewed by Channel 7: “Thank you very much, everybody. To all of the crowd today at the races, I hope you have a great night. Thank you very much.” In Michelle’s words, “Stevie can pretty much do anything. I think it’s great for other people with Down Syndrome”.
Then Red Cadeaux went and chucked a bucket on our fire. Trained in England, he has run in four Melbourne Cups and finished second on three occasions, making him the most celebrated non-winner of the Cup in recent history. News shortly after the race broke of his failure to finish and subsequent life-threatening injury. Images began to circulate of his jockey, Gerard Mosse, walking away in tears from the scene. He was quickly moved to Werribee hospital where his status, much to the relief of thousands of fans worldwide, has now been changed to stable. And that is your average day in the world of racing.
Featured image: The Week