Female jockey makes history aboard Melbourne Cup longshot; Japan’s duo a double rout
If the odds were truly indicative of which horse would win, betting on horse races would lose much of its allure. Nonetheless, the first horse to hit the finish line in Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse was greeted by a very loud silence. It was also surely greeted by the collective sigh of relief from bookmakers poised to lose a fortune had the favorite lived up to expectations.
Prince of Penzance, a 101-1 longshot, captured the 155th running of the A$6 million Melbourne Cup on Nov. 3 with thrilling style and, in doing so, made 30-year-old jockey Michelle Payne the first woman ever to win the iconic race.
Payne beat runnerup French-bred Max Dynamite, fielded by William Mullins and ridden by Lanfranco Dettori, by half a length. The David Hayes-trained Criterion followed in third place three-quarters of a length later under Michael Walker. The race second choice Trip to Paris finished in fourth place.
Prince of Penzance, trained by Darren Weir, clocked 3 minutes 23.15 seconds over the 3,200 meters of turf rated a “Good 3.”
Hot favorite Fame Game finished far out of reach of the top spots, in 13th place, some 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner. He had raced a good 20 lengths off the top under Zachary Purton amid a slow pace set by Big Orange until Purton brought Fame Game to the far outside turning for home.
Just the day before, The Daily Telegraph had quoted Purton as saying, “They say that Fame Game is better ridden in between horses, and that when he loops around the outside, he poses and pulls up and stops and doesn’t know what to do. That’s what they believe and they know the horse better than you do, and I do, and anyone does.”
Purton’s words are haunting in retrospect, and though Fame Game neither posed nor pulled up when he swept around the outside, neither was he able to gain sufficiently on the frontrunners. Knowing the horse as he did, Purton’s tactics were likely last-ditch. “The pace was just too slack for him,” he said. Purton was severely reprimanded for using his whip forehand two times more than the five-time limit permitted before the 100-meter mark.
Trainer Yoshitada Munakata said of his charge, “He got knocked about in the first half and (Purton) took him wide because of the slow pace. And that loss in ground hurt. The horse was in good shape.”
Hokko Brave, who broke from the outside No. 20 gate, finished a little more than a length behind Fame Game in 17th place amid the field of 24. Rider Craig Williams said the 7-year-old son of Marvelous Sunday “got a severe bump in the straight and it really took the wind out of him."
Trainer Yasutoshi Matsunaga said, “He got a good position with cover and held back. He still looked strong at the 800-meter mark but he got hit by another horse. I just hope he pulls out of this OK,” Matsunaga said immediately following the race.
It was a huge disappointment for the connections and Japan racing fans the world over. Rock-bottom odds had seen Fame Game at one point in the Cup buildup poised to become the shortest-odds winner since Phar Lap in 1930. Fame Game drifted later in the betting and was sent off at 5-1, Hokko Brave at 41-1. If it was any solace, the 5-year-old Fame Game carried 57 kg in the race and no overseas raider has won at more than 56.6 kg. The winner Prince of Penzance raced under 53 kg.
Winning jockey Michelle Payne was only the fourth woman to ride in the Melbourne Cup since the first in 1987 -- Maree Lyndon. The youngest of 10 children in a racing family that has seen eight of them train as jockeys, Payne said she had dreamt of winning the Cup since she was a small child.
"It's like a dream come true, this horse is awesome," said Payne, who won aboard Prince of Penzance in a long and powerful stretch drive before a huge crowd of over 101,000 spectators, “My sister Margaret and I both had a feeling we would win this race," Payne said trackside.
"This is everybody's dream as a jockey in Australia and now probably the world. I dreamt about it from when I was 5 years old. There is an interview from my school friends where they were teasing me about, when I was about 7, and I said, ‘I'm going to win the Melbourne Cup’ and they always give me a bit of grief about it and I can't believe we've done it."
"I've got such respect for him because he is so tough," Payne said of the champion bay 6-year-old gelding. "I thought if ever a horse is going to win the Melbourne Cup, it's going to be him. I know the inner strength that he has.
“What he's done in some of the races, even when he hasn't won. . . to finish off like he does, I think this horse is incredible. Being the jockey I could feel that more than people could see. I said to Darren about two weeks ago, 'He's the best horse I've ever ridden, I think he can win the Cup'."
Payne expressed her hope that her win can also help bring recognition to the talents and dedication of other female riders like herself who suffer amid the chauvinism of the sport. She fought to stay with the horse over his career despite opposition from owners. She had ridden him in 22 of his previous 23 starts and has now won seven times with him, including the biggest race Down Under.
In eery coincidence, Payne’s winning colors – purple, white and green – were also the colors adopted by the British Suffragettes.
Prince Of Penzance is owned by a large group, which includes John Richards, who supported Payne when several co-owners wanted to replace her. "It's such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off,” Payne said. “But John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me, and 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,” Payne said of Prince of Penzance. “I can't say how grateful I am to them," Payne said. "I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.
"People think we [women] are not strong enough and all of the rest of it, but it's not all about strength. There is so much more involved, getting the horse into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you. It's being patient.
“I'm so glad to win the Melbourne Cup and, hopefully, it will help female jockeys from now on to get more of a go. We don't get enough of a go."
Also basking in the spotlight was Prince of Penzance’s groom, Payne’s brother Steven, who has Down syndrome. He picked the No. 1 post for the winner and had predicted the gelding would be out in front with 200 meters to go. He was. "It's just great that he's been able to share this experience with me," sister Michelle said.
Winning trainer Darren Weir is Victoria’s leading trainer and has his stables at Wangoom near Warmambool. Prince of Penzance was the only one of three horses Weir had aimed at the Melbourne Cup to secure a berth in the race.
Prince of Penzance is by Pentire out of the Mr. Prospector mare Royal Successor. His win of the Melbourne Cup was his first victory since he and Payne took the 2,500-meter G2 Moonee Valley Cup in October of last year.
The gelding shared the longest odds going into the Melbourne Cup with 12th place finisher Sertorious. Prince of Penzance joined only three other winners of the Melbourne Cup at odds of 100-1 and longer -- Old Rowley in 1940, Wotan in 1936 and The Pearl in 1871.
Also in the Melbourne Cup: Lanfranco Dettori, who rode the runnerup Max Dynamite, was penalized for interference at the 350-meter mark when he moved his mount out and caused problems for five other horses. Dettori was suspended for one month and hit with a fine of A$20,000. Jamie Spencer also was suspended 14 meetings for shifting out on Big Orange to interfere with Our Ivanhowe 250 meters from the finish. Three-time Melbourne Cup runnerup Red Cadeaux broke down before the finish with an injured leg. The injury was later determined to be not life-threatening.
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