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Michelle Payne: 'When I have a bad feeling I just say a prayer to my mum'

Before Michelle Payne became the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup she overcame two near-death injuries and the loss of her mother and sister.

Hers is a story of incredible strength and skill, Payne won her first ever race when she was just 15.

"I said when I was seven I was going to win the Melbourne Cup and all the girls gave me grief about it."

It was almost no surprise coming from a family with nine jockeys — eight of her 10 siblings and dad Paddy.

Their mother died when Michelle was a baby and in 2008 her sister of complications related to a racing injury.

"My oldest sister Bridget she passed away seven years ago so unfortunately she wasn't there with us [at the Cup]."

It was a fate Michelle almost shared when a fall left her with a skull fracture at age 18.

She was an excelling apprentice "riding winners every weekend in town" when her horse fell at Sandown races.

"It just fell over, it didn't give me anytime to prepare for the fall it just fell and speared me head first in to the ground because I didn't have time to put my hands out and knocked me out straight away."

She was rushed to hospital with a fractured skull and bruising on the brain.

READ MORE: How the race was won 'I was numb'

Despite the setback in 2004, she was a keen as ever to get back in the saddle and after seven months of rehab she finally did.

Incredibly, an even worse fall was around the corner, not physically but psychologically.

Again at Sandown in 2006 her horse clipped the heel of another and she 'catapulted' into the oncoming hooves.

"The whole field ran over to me, I will never forget that, they just kept kicking me and I was just praying that none of them stood on me, it felt like it lasted half an hour but it was probably five seconds."

She escaped with a dislocated leg requiring surgery and was back in the saddle after three months, but the trauma remained.

"I couldn't stop the vision of the horses…seeing the grass and then the horses galloping over me, I couldn't get it out of my head."

It didn’t end there, another fall fractured a vertebrae in her neck and another broke her wrist.

It took months of therapy and training for her to regain the confidence to race, but she was back in the saddle and ready to take the Melbourne Cup.

"If I have a bad feeling and I am in the barriers and I have a bad feeling I just say a prayer to my mum"

Michelle's mother before her death with her 10 children and husband Paddy
Michelle's mother before her death with her 10 children and husband Paddy

Making a change in racing

Horse racing is just about the only sport in the world where males and female compete on an even playing field, and the number of females in the field is skyrocketing.

The apprentice class of 2015 is now split 50-50 females-males, a 75 percent rise since 2011.

Michelle's brief but controversial speech following her win definitely shook up the industry.

"I am pretty happy that I said what I said. Was taken a little bit out of context but I am firey and I like to say what I think because why hold it in, it's better to get it out on the table I believe"

She says one problem is that 'unlucky' doesn’t exist for women in racing, they are simply treated as substandard.

"When we don't do something wrong and you are unlucky, that is racing. Don't you know don't lose faith in us because of that, give us another go kind of thing"

In the days that followed her win jockey Glen Boss was quoted as saying Michelle had a “bee in her bonnet” over male chauvinism, but the cool, calm queen of the track knew him better.

In a touching moment before her next race he assured her he was nothing but proud.

"What I said was not nasty. He took two quotes out and made a headline. I know but I said such nice things, really beautiful things. Disregarded that."

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