The Payne barrier

The win of jockey Michelle Payne in last week’s Melbourne Cup was a breath of fresh air.
After a perfect race ride in which she outsmarted and outmanoeuvred the best jockeys in the world, Payne gave an after race interview that captured the nation’s heart.
She did not trot back to scale weeping into the interviewer’s microphone like so many of her male counterparts who win Group 1 races. She spoke with clarity, consideration and passion.
She was clearly thrilled with her achievement and that of her horse but was astute enough to realise she had the attention of the nation and delivered a charming rebuke to the chauvinists in the industry.
Women riders have been competing with men on an equal footing in this highly competitive and extremely dangerous sport for many years.
There is no women’s division in racing.
It’s not like tennis, hockey or golf … there are no races just for female jockeys.
They have had countless obstacles placed in their way by generations of male racing officials, trainers and owners but, little by little, have overcome those sexist perceptions to rise to the very top.
Smart trainers such as the late Bart Cummings realised the worth of female jockeys and booked them regularly for major races.
He used Michelle Payne often and the master horseman knew that getting the best out of some horses took more than muscle.
Adelaide trainer Leon Macdonald and jockey Clare Lindop have forged a partnership that has been the best in SA for many years. Lindop has won Group 1 races in Melbourne and is one of many SA female riders who fly the flag with professionalism.
So while it is possible that another woman may not ride the winner of the Melbourne Cup for another 10, 20 or 30 years, Michelle Payne has played an important part in breaking down a barrier.
The next move must surely be for racing officials to stop placing a ‘Ms’ in front of a female rider’s name in the form guide to distinguish them from their male counterparts. If officials truly believe women are as professional as men, then such a title is unnecessary. This is a simple but true test of what industry authorities really think of female jockeys.