Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Michelle Payne has lauded champion horse Prince Of Penzance, saying she always knew he was a special talent even in the face of doubts from its own trainer.
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.Michelle Payne on Prince Of Penzance
Prince Of Penzance, from Weir's stables at Wangoom near Warrnambool, is one of the longest priced winners in the 155-year history of the Melbourne Cup.
Payne, who has had a long association with the horse, said after winning the race that she had laid in bed the night before, dreaming of winning the Cup.
That dream came true in stunning fashion aboard the six-year-old gelding which had doubters aplenty, including trainer Darren Weir.
"I've got such respect for him because he is so tough. I thought if ever a horse is going to win the Melbourne Cup, it's going to be him," Payne said.
"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.
He sort of laughed, saying 'I'd be happy with a top 10 finish', and yeah, we did it."
The win is the perfect culmination of years of work, which has seen a special relationship develop between jockey and horse.
"It's pretty incredible, I don't think I've ever ridden a horse so much," she said.
"I've ridden every start, bar one, because I was suspended. I've ridden him in every gallop leading up to this because I didn't want to let anyone else on him, just in case they didn't do the right work or something.
"I'm pretty pedantic about the gallops because I think they can mean everything. I've ridden him all the way along."
Payne said her strategy was to keep Prince Of Penzance as calm as possible in the lead-up to the race, but had to adjust midway through before sprinting clear to win the Cup.
"My main strategy was to keep Prince Of Penzance really calm because he can get a little bit fiery, and I thought our best chance of winning the race was just getting him to relax and switch off, and hope that he would jump well and I could just cruise along," she said.
"Unfortunately he came out really slow, he was a bit too relaxed in the barriers, and he half-walked out, which made me have to give him a bit of a squeeze and a click-up.
My body went a bit numb, a bit limp, and I just couldn't believe we had won the Melbourne Cup. It was a dream come true.Michelle Payne
"That was what I didn't want to do, but I had to hold up my position that I wanted to be in.
"I waited for as long as I could and I couldn't believe when he sprinted [home], I've never yelled that loud in my life.
"When he went over the line, it was unbelievable. My body went a bit numb, a bit limp, and I just couldn't believe we had won the Melbourne Cup. It was a dream come true."
In the immediate aftermath of her historic win, Payne took the opportunity to fire a broadside at the racing establishment, calling it "a chauvinistic sport".
"To think that (trainer) Darren Weir has given me a go and it's (racing) 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," she said.
"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."
Later in the day, however, Payne was more circumspect about her impact on racing, but said she hoped it would give female jockeys more opportunities in the big races in future.
"I don't really see the significance that much, but I hope it helps female jockeys," she said.
"I'm a little bit sad for the likes of Clare Lindop who's had two rides in the Melbourne Cup and she rode each of them beautifully. They had the ride to win the race if they were good enough, and they weren't.
"I feel sorry for all of the girls out there that haven't had the opportunity, that I'm the first one, because I think everyone [of them] deserves it.
We've criticised her all her life but she was defiant, she said she loved doing it. And she's proved us all wrong so good on herPatrick Payne
"I just really hope it helps open up more opportunities and we get more of a go."
Payne's brother, Patrick, who rode in the Melbourne Cup when his little sister was still in primary school, says he is very proud of her success.
"She's done it all herself. We've criticised her all her life but she was defiant, she said she loved doing it. And she's proved us all wrong so good on her," he said.
The horse trainer said the family tried to convince her to quit racing after she had a series of falls, one of which left her with a fractured skull.
"She's got a bit of a pig-headed nature to her, growing up in a family of 10 she's had to be quite tough and look after herself," he said.
"You watch her in a running race, it's embarrassing: she's not a natural athlete. She had to work hard to get herself fit and she's done it all on her own accord."