A triumph of Payne over suffering

The Australian jockey has never had it easy but that has driven her to succeed in the saddle. She speaks to Chris McGrath

She would sleep holding her father's hand, so that he could not leave bed without her knowing.

The fact that Michelle Payne was the last of 10 children, and had lost her mother in a road accident when just six months old, would seem to saturate this admission with pathos. Meet her now, however, and you soon learn that everything she does is far more likely to prompt admiration than pity. The only reason she would grip her father's hand was to prevent him creeping off to the stables at daybreak. "If he left me in bed, so I didn't get to ride before school, I would be so mad at him," she says. "When I was four, it was already all I wanted – to be a jockey."

The name Payne recurs throughout the modern annals of the Australian Turf, like some authenticating watermark. Eight of the 10 children became jockeys. Patrick was rated top-class, as good as there was; the older girls became pioneers for their sex. Three of them, for good measure, married top jockeys in Kerrin McEvoy, Brett Prebble and Jason Patton. The patriarch himself, Paddy, is now 72 and only has a couple of horses. But back in New Zealand he had been a rodeo rider and jump jockey, and on emigrating he became a successful trainer. Some of the siblings have now followed him into that trade, too.

And baby? At 23, Michelle has already ridden over 400 winners. The latest, Iasia at Warwick last month, ensured that she could return home yesterday with a fresh entry on her CV. The focus of a working holiday with Jayne Chapple-Hyam had been a potential Melbourne Cup mount, Judgethemoment, though in the event the ground turned against him at Goodwood last week.

"But the whole experience has been a real eye-opener," Payne said. "The training grounds at Newmarket, we don't have anything like it. I'll ride three horses in five hours; at home, it might be 10 or 12 in three. Here it feels more like trail-riding than a job. And you see the difference in the horses, too. At home they are a lot more pumped up."

She has missed her family, though, calling home daily. "When my mother passed away, there was talk of splitting up the family," she said. "But Dad didn't want it, and we stuck together."

The cement was always perspiration. "We had to work very hard," she said. "The younger five kids on the dairy farm, the older five with the horses. I'd be milking, or feeding the calves, from 5am until school time. It was pretty full on, but the only way our father could support us all. It was just kids everywhere, growing up, and always fights. Whatever it felt like then, looking back it was the best childhood you could possibly have."

This was in the remote interior of Victoria state, since devastated by drought. "Dad was always worried about irrigation, and was lucky to get out when he did," Payne said. "Farmers are going broke, there's a suicide every week. It's so sad."

The family's own fortitude was severely tested, of course, even before Payne's oldest sibling, Brigid, died two years ago, aged 36. Brigid had been one of the adolescent girls suddenly vested with maternal responsibilities when Payne was a baby. Yet even its most tragic challenges seem only to fortify the dynasty's traditional, Catholic values. "Things happen and you can't do anything about that," Payne said. "Dad says there's always something good round the corner. And if you keep battling, there is. That's the great thing about racing, and about life."

A third generation is already in business, Brigid's son having won on his first ride at the age of 15. As it happens, Payne herself did exactly the same. "People thought I could ride straightaway," she said. "But my second day riding I had six rides at a real country track, and it was so rough, I was bumped everywhere. Far out! I didn't think it was going to be like this. But you wise up."

At 18, Payne fractured her skull in a fall at Sandown, suffering cerebral bruising. Her family implored her to give up. But she only knows one way. Even at her home tracks, Payne walks the course every day. "You never know what the difference might be," she said. "What if you get beat a head, and didn't know where the better going was, because you'd been lazy?"

That seems a remote contingency in a woman who illuminated this soggy British summer with an infectious sense of pleasure in her calling. Payne by name, you might say, but paean by nature.

Turf account: Chris McGrath

*Nap

Saga De Tercey (3.20 Catterick)

One of his stable's many bumper winners, he was still green when just winning a steadily-run maiden at Musselburgh, and duly made his handicap debut off a charitable mark at Carlisle last time. His amateur rider was rather given the slip that day, but his finish left no doubt that he can win off this rating.

*Next best

Primaeval (5.10 Chepstow)

Made his debut in what looked a fairly mediocre maiden at Doncaster, but all three runners to have resurfaced since won their next start. This well bred animal was not given a severe race on his debut, either, finishing clear of the pack, and can build on those foundations here.

*One to watch

Even Bolder (E A Wheeler) bolted up off 73 at Sandown last summer and looks poised to strike soon, now that his rating has dwindled to 71. Finished fast in a sprint at Newbury on Sunday, having spent much of the race trapped on the bridle.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution