Ride of her life

Flemington on film

Michelle Payne’s 2015 Melbourne Cup win was retold on screen in Ride Like a Girl. Premiering in 2019, this must-see Australian film is perfect viewing as the five-year anniversary of the historic win is upon us.

Moments after Michelle Payne crossed the finish line in first place on Melbourne Cup day 2015, acclaimed actor Rachel Griffiths decided that the incredible story had to be made into a film. Not only was there the story of the first female jockey to win the coveted race, there was the tale of a country trainer with a local horse and a family that has traversed trials and tribulations. Ride Like a Girl shines a light not only on Michelle’s achievement, but also the quality of Victorian thoroughbred racing and the diverse range of people working in the industry.

The directing debut for Griffiths, the highly anticipated film garnered huge support from the racing industry, with Racing Victoria, the Victorian Government and Tabcorp all providing significant support and investment. The VRC was instrumental in the success of the production, and many other Victorian race clubs too showed their support. With filming taking place in regional areas such as Ballarat, the film spotlights Victorian racing and the natural beauty of the state, as well as our high-quality racing and people.

 

While the story of Michelle and her racing family is familiar to most in the racing industry and Australia, the film took this story global, securing domestic and international distribution partners.

 

Griffiths was thrilled to take Michelle’s story to the world, stating at the time, “We are celebrating both Michelle’s resilience and athletic brilliance, as well as her sisters’ inspiring achievements in the sport before her. We also explore the profound impact of those men who gave her opportunities and stood by her at critical moments and hope to inspire more men to become champions of change.” The cast included well-known actors, including Teresa Palmer as Michelle and Sam Neill playing her father, Paddy Payne, as well as local actors in supporting roles. Crowd scenes were made up of extras, giving many locals, including some VRC members, a thrill.

Real jockeys were used in the race scenes to make them authentic, providing many of the turf’s finest a glimpse into another world. Bobby El-issa was one of these hoops, playing Frankie Dettori who piloted Criterion to third place in the 2015 race. El-issa was approached by fellow jockey Chris Symons, a consultant on the film, who encouraged him to audition. “I’d never done anything like it before but I went along to the audition and pretended to talk in an Italian accent, and they cast me,” El-issa recounted. “It was amazing to be part of and I loved it all. The racing scenes were exciting and I think the whole story is spine tingling. It will also show a glimpse into life as a jockey rather than focusing on the horse like other racing movies, which is great. I was so grateful to be part of it.”

Another familiar racing face that appears in the film was Stevie Payne, who played himself. Producer Richard Keddie was thrilled with the casting choice, commenting, “As a joyous human being who has excelled in his field as a strapper, it is an incredible honour to see Stevie Payne acting in one of our lead roles, playing himself, in what I believe is a world first.”

Keddie believes the film was the “most inspiring and significant” he ever worked on, with many messages to deliver. Michelle’s story and that of the racing community at large shines a light on the people who dedicate their lives to the sport, and of course also promotes and champions gender diversity in the sport. It is proof that no dream is ever too big.