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


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
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little