The 2016 Melbourne Cup — half empty: Where was Michelle Payne?

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Michelle Payne winning the 2015 Emirates Melbourne Cup. (Image via

For contributing editor-at-large, Tess Lawrence, the 2016 Melbourne Cup is half empty after the disappointing treatment of Michelle Payne. 

THE HARD MEN OF RACING are still trying to cut down to size, diminutive feisty jockey Michelle Payne who dared to call out the industry's sexism upon crossing the winner's line on Prince of Penzance last year.

She created herstory, becoming the first female to win the iconic $3.6 million Melbourne Cup runneth over two miles (3.2 metres).

Her sensational ride was matched by a sensational and inspiring, empowering and straight-from-the-heart, speech that was to reverberate with females young and older from all walks of life, those who believe in gender equality and those of us once little girls who became besotted with horses after seeing the film National Velvet, 11-year-old Elizabeth Taylor's first starring role.

In the way that U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama does so eloquently in her speeches, our guileless Michelle, First Lady of Australia's most famous race, drew her global sisters in her embrace, sharing the right to not only dream the dream but also to live it, earn it and own it through hard work and guts, all the while fighting a male-dominated system skewed against her and her kind.

She seized that great moment and made it hers, but not hers alone. She reached out and invited us all to drink from the loving cup:

It’s such a chauvinistic sport ... I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off… 

I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because they think women aren’t strong enough but we just beat the world.

Note her use of the word "we". She endeared herself to so many. It was one of the greater moments in the great race's chronology. It was a great moment for the human race and women in particular. There is a great eloquence in Truth plainly spoke. 

For hours, days and months, Michelle Payne's speech was and remains a topic of everyday conversation, debate and argument.

The irritation, anger and fury of some of the officials and dignitaries around the microphone and lectern, was palpable — even when watching from a distance on the telly, far from the madding crowd.  

It seemed like the words just hung there in the air for a bit, in slo mo, as so many of us punched the air with a fraternal happy, glorious and victorious "Yes! Go, you good thing, Go-Girl !"

But what didn't happen next was outrageous.

Neither the graceless Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, representing that horseracing junkie, the Queen of Orstralia, nor the man from the ubiquitous sponsors, Emirates Airlines, properly acknowledged Michelle's historical win. It was truly pathetic. An ignominious moment for both as well as the reputation of the Cup.

Not since Sir John Kerr's drunken slurry (well and truly in his cups) of a speech has a Governor-General consigned his vice-regal role to that of a flunky to vested interests. 

Instead of celebrating Payne's win, the racing establishment downplayed it. 

Ever since, she has been punished for courageously speaking out, for breaking the silence, naming and shaming discrimination in her profession. 

The news about Payne's win was uplifting against the backdrop of a sometimes glum and harsh world, where females comprise two-thirds of the 774 million people who are illiterate and even the World Bank describes the proliferation of violence against women as a pandemic.

Not since suffragette Emily Davison threw herself under Anmer, King George V's horse in the 1913 Epsom Derby, has the subject of female equality been so associated with a racetrack; thus Flemington is our Epsom.

It was so disappointing that Payne, try as she might, couldn't get a ride in the Melbourne Cup — now the Emirates Melbourne Cup. It belongs to Emirates, not to Melbourne, as reflected in the freezing out and shunning of Michelle Payne. 

She was hoping that she might get a ride with Godolphin, who had five horses in the Cup alone.

Michelle might have done Godolphin proud. Maybe next year ALL horses in the Emirates Melbourne Cup could be from Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's hapless stables. That way he's sure to win. The poor rich sheik has spent billions of dollars trying to win this coveted cup.

Better still Sheik Mohammed, why not let Payne train one or two of your thoroughbreds? You have nothing to lose but everything to win.

Racing Victoria has mishandled the entire Michelle Payne "problem".

Where was Michelle's Lap of Honour at Flemington? Did I miss it? 

Where was the Michelle Payne Stakes on the race card? Did I miss that too?

In IA's article after last year's Cup, headlined 'Mark Latham's clit baiting of Michelle Payne', backgrounding Michelle's extraordinary life journey and addressing criticism of Payne's comments about chauvenism and sexism, I wrote: 

Presumably female jockeys should be kept horseshoeless and with foal in the stables, their lips bound with gaffe tape whilst in public but urged to keep their riding boots on in the hay and legs akimbo in the stirrups.

More so if you dare rewrite history in lipstick.

Michelle Payne is the first female jockey in 155 years to smash the gender class ceiling.

She did so wearing colours of suffragette purple and green-with-envy silk to snatch by half a length the coveted 2015 Emirates Melbourne Cup from an international field of testosterone dominated equines and humans whilst riding a gelding. Ouch!


The girlie on the gelding beat the blokes. You don't need balls to win. The female and the eunuch proved that.

And it wasn't only the Sisterhood that cheered.

Flemington's famous roses never smelled so sweet nor the the perfume of victory so intoxicating.

Payne's longtime handsome co-star, the New Zealand bred Prince of Penzance, named for Cornwall's port town, pirated the Cup from his 23 rivals carrying 53 kilos, Michelle Payne and history writ large on his back.

Sadly, little has changed. 

It is great news that feisty Rachel Griffiths is making a film based on Michelle Payne's life

I for one, can't wait to see it on the big screen in the cinema. 

Kerrin McEvoy's fine win on Almandin this year at least keeps the Cup in the family circle, given McEvoy, who has now won the Cup twice, is Michelle's brother-in-law.

It's Oaks Day today and I wish everyone well and a happy and safe day. May no horses fall and have to be killed. May no jockeys be hurt.

There is nothing like our Spring Racing Carnival – and the Melbourne Cup – anywhere in the world. 

But I know I am not alone in saying I am disgusted at the way Michelle Payne has been mistreated.

And for no other reason than she is a woman who dared to tell it as it was and still is.

For me, the 2016 Emirates Melbourne Cup remains half-empty.

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