Michelle Payne OAM is a national icon whose remarkable story lifted Australia’s spirits.
The first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, Michelle made the race that stops a nation a race that inspired one. Her graciousness in the face of untold triumph and tragedy is now a beacon for many people.
Her story inspired the film Ride Like a Girl, Australian actress Rachel Griffiths’ directorial debut. Released across Australia in September 2019, it was the highest grossing Australian film of the year.
Michelle will be written into our history books as an icon who lives with gratitude and humility.
The youngest daughter of the ten children of Paddy and Mary Payne, Michelle grew up on a farm at Miners Rest, near Ballarat in central Victoria. Her mother died in a motor vehicle accident when Michelle was only six months old, leaving Paddy to raise the children as a single father.
Michelle entered racing aged 15, the eighth of the Payne children to do so. She won her first race at Ballarat aboard Reigning, a horse trained by her father.
In March 2004, Michelle fell heavily during a race at Sandown Racecourse, Melbourne, fracturing her skull and bruising her brain. As a result of her prolonged recovery period—including a further fall where she fractured her wrist—Michelle was granted a three-month extension to her apprenticeship, allowing her time to ride out her claim.
Michelle won her first Group One race, the Toorak Handicap at Caulfield Racecourse, aboard Allez Wonder in 2009 and trainer Bart Cummings offered her the ride at the Caulfield Cup the following week.
Michelle was only the third female jockey to ride in the Caulfield Cup, one of Australia’s most prestigious races. This also led to a ride in the 2009 Melbourne Cup, once again riding Cummings’ Allez Wonder. In 2010 Payne rode Yosei to victory in the Thousand Guineas at Caulfield.
In November 2015, Michelle rode Prince of Penzance, at odds of 100 to 1, to win the Melbourne Cup, becoming the first female jockey to win Australia’s most prestigious horse race.
Michelle won The Don Award in 2016 for ‘most inspirational Australian athlete’ from the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. In 2017 she received one of the international Longines Ladies Awards in Washington, which celebrates women who have consistently achieved at the highest level within the equestrian world.
In 2021 Michelle Payne was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her services to racing.