ABOUT a week ago, Michelle Payne was hanging out with the fastest man during the spring racing carnival. Usain Bolt towered over her but Payne said he was incredible to meet.
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The Ballarat jockey still finds remarkable how much her life has changed in the past year after winning the Melbourne Cup. All the things she has experienced, and the people she has met – Bolt, tennis greats Roger Federer and Andre Agassi, Prince Charles and Camilla – and a movie in the making about her Cup win.
But the past year has also made her greater appreciates the constants, like being home.
Payne moved home to Miners Rest with her dad and brother Stevie in Miners Rest to help recover from a career-threatening fall in May. She enjoys training at Dowling Forest.
Here Payne felt grounded.
“Having the last fall I had, really slowed me down after the Melbourne Cup,” Payne said, speaking before a trial on Thursday morning. “It was actually a little blessing in disguise to give me a break from all the craziness of it all. Also, it gave me a chance to learn how to deal with it.
“I’m so happy to be back here, the country lifestyle...it’s a breath of fresh air.”
I’m so happy to be back here, the country lifestyle...it’s a breath of fresh air.- Michelle Payne
Payne is training hard to earn a ride in next week’s Ballarat Cup, which she values as second to riding in the Melbourne Cup, because she is so hometown proud.
There is a sense of unfinished business for Payne, whose ride in last year’s Cup pulled up mid-race. That horse Akzar, has since retired and is now her “beautiful” pony she rides for fun. She is considering learning eventing with him.
Payne continues to plan for life after racing, setting up stables to train on Nottingham Farm, the property she purchased with Stevie right next to the race track and maintained she had always been keen to move back to Ballarat.
“I really want to wind down, train a few horses, relax and probably start a family,” Payne said. “I loved growing up here, good country schools – I went to Loreto myself and all my school friends are still really close – that’s why I’m really keen to be back out here. I want my children to have the same lifestyle we had growing up by the racetrack.”
Ballarat Cup is on Saturday, November 19.
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