He led Michelle Payne to become the Melbourne Cup’s first ever female winner in 2015 but horse trainer Darren Weir was banned from horse racing early this year. Weir was disqualified from racing for four years after electric shock devices were found on his property. He was spectacularly arrested in January.
Speaking for the first time since her former trainer’s arrest, 33-year-old Payne appeared on Sunday night’s episode of The Project, where she confirmed she no longer speaks to Weir.
“He’s gone from building this huge empire to it’s all gone, so yeah, I just hope he’s okay because I don’t speak to Darren anymore,” Payne explained.
Host Lisa Wilkinson questioned whether Payne saw signs of Weir’s horses doing unnaturally well in races.
“It’s hard to know,” she replied. “There’s been rumours for years, but there’s rumours about all trainers. So you don’t know.”
Actress Rachel Griffiths, who has turned Payne’s historic win into a feature film, also appeared on the show, where she said Weir’s actions didn’t take away from Payne’s success.
“I’ve just got a fear that a woman’s success would be hijacked by, you know, the stories around a man’s choices in another part of his life,” the Muriel’s Wedding star said. “The truth is he kept a woman on a horse in the Melbourne Cup, which has only happened a handful of times. I’m not going to shy away from that.”
Griffiths directed Ride Like A Girl, a movie based on Payne’s life. It features an array of Aussie stars including Teresa Palmer, Magda Szubanski, Sam Neill and Payne’s own brother, Stevie.
“When it comes out, I think everyone will fall in love with Stevie as we have because they’ll get to see the real him,” Payne said of her brother, who has Down Syndrome.
As for Griffiths, she explained she always wanted to make a female coming-of-age film and knew Payne’s story was the one she wanted to tell.
“I didn’t know that women were jockeys,” Griffiths said. “I certainly didn’t know that Michelle was riding in that race so it really was kind of like one of those moments where, you know, the helmet comes off and the hair comes out.”
During the interview, Payne also revealed that it had been her dream to win the Melbourne Cup since she was a small child. She recalled watching the race as a child in primary school but never thought her dream would come true. In fact, it almost never happened after a 2004 injury left her with a fractured skull and brain damage.
“At one point I was so depressed that I felt almost suicidal, that I’m never going to be normal again,” she explained. “I think dad and all my family really, they were very much pushing me to look at doing something else. But I think dad especially saw that if I’m not doing what I love doing, then what’s the point of living anyway?”
She also revealed she faced sexism from men in the industry.
“I think a lot of the boys had this thing where they put you down a little bit and I think that definitely drove me to be more successful and stronger,” Payne recalled.
Ride Like A Girl is set to be released later this year.