How can the ‘Moment of Payne’ be more?


You likely know the story by now, jockey Michelle Payne raced into Australian sporting history when she piloted six year-old galloper Prince of Penzance to victory in the 155th edition of the Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November.


Payne became the first female jockey to score victory, and only the fourth to ride, in the famous Flemington feature. It came 50 years after ‘Cups Kings’ Bart Cummings trained the first of his 12 wins in the race and represented a watershed moment in the race’s history.


The result was front page news in the London-based Evening Standard, featured across a host of radio programs including ‘Colin Murray and Friends’ on UK station talkSPORT and it even got a mention in major entertainment publication the Hollywood Reporter. It’s the sort of attention rarely achieved worldwide for Australian thoroughbred racing, bar the recent exploits of sprinter Black Caviar, and is a moment to be harnessed locally to grow the sport.


However it could be just that, a moment, lasting little more than 24 hours in the broader community unless racing authorities utilise Payne and others key to the story, including her brother Stevie, to promote the sport to the wider community.


Payne, 30, is a polished media performer and has already expressed her desire to take out a dual riding-training licence so she may be amenable to an ambassadorial role which could run in tandem with the new aspect of her career. Payne is virtually blemish-free from a major integrity stand-point in racing so would present few problems in that regard.


Immediately following the Cup the effervescent Victorian was invited by Ascot Racecourse to take part in one of their feature race programs with Nick Luck from the British track saying that Payne would be perfect to bring over for the Shergar Cup (a jockey challenge series) held each year. The 2015 version of it was won by the female team and it’s another great innovation from British racing authorities such as their Jockey Club Live series which earlier this year featured legendary singer Kylie Minogue and one of the world’s biggest bands the Kaiser Chiefs.


However despite this immediate attention and value noted from overseas local racing authorities have been slow to react to put in place a plan courtesy of a rare local result which could genuinely (a) attract new racing fans to the track, and (b) get them to wager on the code on a more regular basis than once a year. Between now and August, when Payne rides at the Shergar Cup, if Payne hasn’t appeared across multiple race courses in a riding/non-riding capacity then a huge opportunity will be lost.


Only one jockey since 2008, Damien Oliver, has won the Melbourne Cup and is based in Australia so even setting aside the story behind Payne winning the Cup the fact the Cup-winning jockey will be in Australia for most of the next 12 months is a rare marketing opportunity.


As one of the three key sets of human faces of the sport (including owners and trainers) jockeys are already under-represented in promotion. I’m yet to see my idea of billboards at bus stops in major cities which have the upcoming race meetings listed plus the (changing) images of the jockeys who are leading the race for the premiership in that city. But I digress.


Given Payne’s stated desire to take out a training/riding licence from August when the next cycle of those come around in Victoria coincides with her probable return from the UK should she head to the Shergar Cup there is perhaps an opportunity for country race clubs to host Payne, and potentially her horses at feature meetings. The clubs could cover her staff costs for the day so she can focus on riding or training duties in a handful of races whilst in between doing a signing/photo session with families/kids. The schedule of the races on the day could be programmed to accommodate Payne’s activities. Heck the bigger clubs could even have local bands play afterwards ala the Jockey Club Live series format.


One key issue though is who co-ordinates this, the lack of a central body in Australian racing around this sort of promotion means the clubs/state bodies who will endeavour to woo Payne to whatever feature event they come up with will be fighting against each other. The issue of a strong national body in this regard is a matter for another time however it stands as one of biggest problems to really capturing the moment.


Doing nothing is not an option for racing, or when the Cup is around next year and it’s perhaps won by a German-trained horse ridden by a Frenchman the chance for exposure from racing’s only true national moment will have vanished.

This piece first appeared on



About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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