"They think women aren't strong enough but we just beat the world."
November 3, 2015 6:16 PM   Subscribe

On 3 November 2015 Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, riding Prince of Penzance to victory on 100-1 odds.

The Melbourne Cup is a Thoroughbred horse race held in Melbourne, Australia on the first Tuesday in November, and is commonly described as "the race that stops a nation".

"...it's such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and (owner) John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me. I put in all the effort I could and galloped him all I could because I thought he had what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup. I can't say how grateful I am to them. I just wanted to say that everyone else get stuffed, because they think women aren't strong enough but we just beat the world."

The 30 year old considered ending her career after a pair of falls in 2012, and says that her retirement may not be too far away.

The Melbourne Cup is often the subject of controversy due to what many see as the cruelties associated with horse racing. [Warning: link has graphic photos/video] In 2013, Melbourne Cup runner Verema was euthanised on the track after breaking her leg during the race.

The Backburner, a satirical comedy site, summed up Australia's dilemma: Nation Unsure How To Feel As Female Jockey Wins Cruel Race
posted by fever-trees (16 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
How wonderful was this to see, it made me so happy. I watched the Melbourne Cup with my four year old son for the first time and we cheered them on. I turned to him and said, "Look, a lady won the race!" And I'm sure he'll view this now as a completely normal thing, that women and men both compete and win.
posted by Jubey at 7:52 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good on her. I'll have to go watch the race.

I know jockeys are busy, with full racing and travel schedules, but I'm always impressed by the ones who take the morning exercise rides, and I'm assuming that's what she did with this horse, "I put in all the effort I could and galloped him all I could because I thought he had what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup."

The really sad part is despite being a racing fan, this is the first I've head of the news. I did hear about some actress who wore the wrong designer's dress to the track, but of course news about the winner didn't really get any play here. (I didn't even see it on the front page of The Blood Horse, although I'll admit I could have just missed it, or it could have been buried somewhere.)
posted by sardonyx at 8:09 PM on November 3, 2015

100 to 1? I hope somebody bet on them.
posted by jonmc at 8:10 PM on November 3, 2015

jonmc - one person who did is Michelle's brother Stevie, who is Prince of Penzance's strapper - he had $10 each way on them.
posted by fever-trees at 8:25 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I liked this short article about the post race speeches.
posted by michswiss at 8:27 PM on November 3, 2015

I have wondered why there aren't more female jockeys- your standard female gymnast has the ideal build- tiny yet fiercely strong and quick. Hopefully Michelle's win will open the door a bit wider for women in this sport.
posted by emd3737 at 11:13 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

The satirical article is pretty good and would be at home in The Onion:

It’s nice that there is a competitive sport on the national calendar that features male and female athletes competing against one another on the basis of merit. The fact that horses tend to suffer incredibly cruel and painful deaths as a result isn’t so great but you know, if you want a rainbow you’ve got to put up with the rain. The rain here is of course the dripping blood of the animals. The rainbow is still a rainbow though.
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:24 AM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

For some reason I thought female jockeys weren't allowed at some levels of racing, precisely because they're more likely to have the weight/build to make them successful. But apparently not. I was super surprised (and happy!) when the winner took off her helmet and I realised it was a woman. Go Michelle!
posted by olinerd at 1:40 AM on November 4, 2015

See also First Dog On The Moon's take ...
posted by nickzoic at 3:10 AM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have wondered why there aren't more female jockeys

And simply throw away generations of work on tiny man breeding?
posted by Panjandrum at 7:05 AM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

your standard female gymnast has the ideal build- tiny yet fiercely strong and quick

I've wondered this myself, but your standard female competitive gymnast is probably coming from a background where she's going to expect things like insurance and worker's comp and a retirement plan with her job, and jockeys don't see much in the way of benefits (at least in the U.S.).
posted by dilettante at 8:32 AM on November 4, 2015

Horse racing isn't my gig, though I do ride horses, own horses, train horses, etc. I don't like the highly-public breakdowns on the track (Barbaro, Eight Belles) or the less-public breakdowns on the track that you don't ever hear of because they're not high-profile. How much blood is dripping from thoroughbred racing? According to the stats for the Equine Injury Database, there are 1.89 fatalities per 1000 starts in thoroughbred racing. This means that just about .2% of horses that go to the post wind up dead.

The horses most people think of as racehorses (3 yr old thoroughbreds) are structurally immature baby horses (think "little league pitchers"). Horses are not physically mature and "fully grown" until they are somewhere between four and six years old. (Source). The big money races are held in the spring of a thoroughbred's third year, so these horses need to be ready to race at that time. Typically, they're started under saddle as two year olds and are entered into a couple of two year old races so that they can get the hang of things before the Kentucky Derby.

Backing two year olds is a questionable practice in terms of the long-term viability of the horse. It is more reasonable to wait to start horses under saddle until they're four years old so that they can finish growing up before they start working for a living... but then you've missed the Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes.

Thoroughbreds are bred for early size and speed so that they can succeed as three year olds. They don't need long-term durability because their careers mostly don't last that long. ESPN has a nice article about what I call the Native Dancer problem.

Horse racing used to be different. From 1760 to 1860, the United States regularly did heat races of four miles and, in the process, made some fantastic distance-running horses with great durability and soundness, two features ruthlessly enforced by the four mile heat race structure of horse racing at the time. (A heat race is where the horses run four miles, three different times in one day, and best two out of three wins the contest.)

In 1842, a mare named Fashion beat the horse Boston on four mile heats for a purse of $20,000 which was real money in those days. In her career, Fashion raced 36 times, with 32 firsts and 4 seconds. Boston, for his part, started 45 times and won 41 of them during his career. Doing the math, we can see that these horses both did more than 300 miles of actual race-speed miles in actual races during their careers. That's durability and soundness, right there. Neither of them started competing until they were four.

For comparison, American Pharoah ran 12.5 competition miles in his lifetime competition career (I think -- furlongs are confusing) which was entirely concluded BEFORE he turned four. When you look at competition miles, "over 300" is a lot more than "12.5". (Take a horse to ONE four mile heat race and he'd log almost as many competition miles in a day as American Pharoah did in his entire career.)

As of the current time, American Pharoah is retired to stud. He turns four on February 2, 2016 -- his career is over before he even finished growing up. As a result, we know nothing of his long-term durability... but he has a fair amount of Native Dancer in his pedigree, like almost all modern American thoroughbreds. (Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer x2, Kanumera, Procne, Raise a Native) So, odds are not in his favor. Despite his pedigree, or perhaps because of it, he will be highly successful in the breeding shed, even at a fee folks speculate will be somewhere north of $200,000 a cover, and that does not bode well for the breed as a whole.
posted by which_chick at 9:12 AM on November 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

Yes, yes, yes. People think it's a mystery when these horses break down, when it's clearly written in their pedigree. The entire American racing industry is at the intersection of poor breeding practices and starting horses much too soon. No one knowledgeable who wants a saddle horse will be backing them at two -- that's how you ruin a good horse. No one especially should be backing a horse, and racing them, at TWO, that's already doomed by breeding to poor long-term prospects of health.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:56 AM on November 4, 2015

I said I was a fan, and that's true, but it's also true I have serious concerns about the sport: about pushing too young horses too fast, about the preponderance of sprints over longer handicaps, about medication rules, about too much inbreeding/shuttling stallions, etc. It's a troubled industry that I wish could be better, and has the potential to be better.

But then I hear about stuff like the trainer of a Breeders Cup winner being fired the day after the race (in part) because she didn't want to gallop the horse because she felt heat in his leg, and I think, nah, nothing is going to change, and to me that is a real shame. Racing is one of those ways that city-bound kids can connect (in some way, even if via TV) with those big, beautiful animals, and that's something I think is worth encouraging.
posted by sardonyx at 10:14 AM on November 4, 2015

"...and is commonly described as "the race that stops a nation".

Having just spent three days in Melbourne as part of my vacation, I can confirm that this is completely true. Lots of people in funny hats, though!
posted by hopeless romantique at 12:08 AM on November 5, 2015

I'd like to say:
FUCK the Melbourne Cup.

That in mind, and considering I am not clicking the links, I was complaining this week about the fact the news left out one simple fact: if she was the first female to win in 155 years, where there 154 years of crap female horse brutalisers or what?

Apparently letting the chicks in is news: four years or four women riders (or both).
posted by Mezentian at 4:19 AM on November 5, 2015

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