Opinion Michelle Payne: The ban ruining racing’s fairytale story

Michelle Payne: The ban ruining racing’s fairytale story

Michelle Paynehas been suspended from riding after testing positive for an appetite suppressant. Photo: Getty
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Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission approved a licence for Michelle Payne to ride on January’s Magic Millions race day.

Payne – now the owner of a joint jockey/trainers licence – steered Husson Eagle, trained by her brother Paddy, to success at Sandown earlier this month, an encouraging sign ahead of the sprinter’s main assignment in the $1 million Magic Millions Sprint on January 14.

But the fact that Payne needed special permission to feature in the race, and is banned from riding or training anywhere in New South Wales, is a blight on racing.

When Payne crossed the line to win the 2015 Melbourne Cup on Prince of Penzance, a battle-weary racing industry rubbed its eyes in disbelief.

The Sport of Kings had endured black eye after black eye over the preceding years, but this was a genuine fairytale.

A female jockey, her brother the strapper, a 100/1 outsider and the bush trainer – this is the stuff they make movies about.

Ride Like a Girl, directed by Rachel Griffiths, has already started production, with Payne central to one of racing’s greatest stories.

But while the Payne story may be big enough for Hollywood, the story of her actual racing career has been stalled by the racing industry’s innate ability to shoot itself in the foot.

On Sunday, Payne became the first Victorian ever (male or female) to ride and train the same horse to victory in a race.

She gave a little wave as Duke of Nottingham crossed the line, again writing herself into the history books.

That wave undersold the latest achievement of her amazing career.

In April, five months after her historic win on Prince of Penzance in Australia’s greatest race, she became one of the first people to apply for a joint jockey/trainers licence.

Racing Victoria brought in the concept to help ease jockeys’ transition into other careers.

She purchased a couple of horses and decided to race them with friends as she plotted the next stage of her life.

Payne celebrates her famous Melbourne Cup triumph. Photo: Getty

The danger of her current profession was shown when she fell from a horse in Mildura in May and suffered internal injuries which kept her sidelined until September.

There were times in her long recovery where she no doubt contemplated that her race riding days were over, but she at least had the comfort of her burgeoning training career to keep her going.

But unsurprisingly for a 30-year-old who has overcome her fair share of adversity, she has fought her way back and looks to have lost none of her touch in the saddle.

When she won aboard Husson Eagle, Paddy Payne planned a run in Sydney to tune his horse up. But his plan hit a snag.

You see, Racing NSW won’t allow Michelle Payne to ride anywhere in its jurisdiction.

Her crime is that she dared to take out a trainers’ license, and New South Wales sees that as a breach of their integrity protocols.

This one, says Racing NSW boss Peter V’Landy’s, is black and white.

For while Victoria has applied the common sense approach of allowing jockey/trainers to only ride their own horses in races they are competing in, that appears to be beyond the comprehension of Racing NSW, who flat out refuse Payne to either ride or train in their state.

Payne wins a race on Oaks Day onboard Tavi Bay. Photo: Getty

It would be almost comical if it weren’t so typical of an industry riven with politics at every level.

Michelle Payne’s story is one of the most remarkable in all of Australian sport.

Racing has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve substantial cut through into the mainstream by continuing to let her create it.

Instead, as is entirely typical of an interest which lacks direction and identity and is stuck in an old-world battle of state v state, it acts in self-interest, which in the end counteracts the interests of the sport as a whole.

Breaking down barriers is something that Michelle Payne is remarkably good at, and she’ll need to do it again if racing authorities north of the Murray continue to uphold their ridiculous position.

The alternative is that the only chance we’ll see her in the saddle ongoing will be on the big screen.

Bren O’Brien is a freelance journalist who was formerly the managing editor of Racing.com

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