As she stepped out of the tunnel into the mounting yard the glare from the sun dazzled her, distracting her for a moment from the flamboyance and noise of the crowd. Pinks, purples, blues and every colour of the rainbow sparkled from the race day dresses of the women and the voices of excited spectators filled the arena. They shouted the names of favourites and, as expected, hers was lost among the champions.
She was an outsider with odds of 100 to 1. A female jockey in a race dominated by men. A girl from Ballarat who had dreamed of this day since she was five years old. She knew she wouldn’t win but she felt privileged to be given the chance to be counted against the greats in this race that stopped a nation.
As she approached her Prince she could see him trembling with excitement as he picked up on the emotions of the crowd. Her brother held his reins and, as always, his presence seemed to gentle the giant horse. He was grinning from ear to ear, swept up in the moment they had both worked so hard for. She gave him an impulsive hug and he whispered to her that she was going to win.
Mounting she could feel Prince’s muscles flex as he pranced beneath her. He was ready to race. She almost had trouble reining him in as they followed the lead pony to the starting gate. They had lucked out drawing the number one position and she only hoped that their luck would hold.
Tensions mounted as the 24 horses and their jockeys waited for the starter’s gun to fire. Prince fidgeted eager to be off. She could feel butterflies swirling up a tornado in the pit of her stomach and a nervous sweat made her palms itch. The voice of her trainer kept running through her head. Hold him back. Don’t let him waste himself too early. Avoid the pack. Stay safe.
With a bang the starter’s gun fired startling Prince into a running jump from which he quickly recovered. By some miracle they were in the first four out of the gate. Now they just had to maintain it. She could feel his muscles clench and expand beneath her as he lengthened his stride. The pound of hooves surrounded them.
Prince fought for his head as the lengths of the course flashed by. He was a born and bred racer who loved to run and she could almost feel his indignation at being hobbled from his full potential. Gripping onto his mane she whispered for him to wait just a little longer.
600 metres. 700 metres. She could still hear her trainer’s advice running through her head. Hold him back. 900 metres. 1000 metres. Not yet. Not yet. 1400 metres. 1500 metres. She was starting to struggle as her arms trembled with the strain of holding back the huge horse. 1900 metres. Almost there.
They raced by the 2000 metre mark and with 1200 metres to go she knew she could hold him back no longer. Leaning further forward in the saddle she gave Prince his head and shouted a battle cry for him to run. With a burst of speed like nothing she had felt before he gave it his all. She felt like they were flying as horse and rider moved together as one, bonded in that moment of determination to reach the finish line first.
As the other competitors thundered around them they became the lightning. A glimmer of horse flesh too fast for the eye to catch. Together they grabbed the lead and held it all the way across the finish line and into the history books, as the girl from Ballarat, the outsider with the 100 to 1 odds became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.