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Celebrating the Melbourne Cup | Who runs the world...

Beyonce Knowles said it best when she sang “who runs the world... girls!” and the history of the Melbourne Cup makes it clear that it’s, in fact, more specifically, Kiwi girls who have blazed a trail for others to follow.


Today we've rounded up some of the noteworthy moments in the Cup's history that women with a kiwi influence can lay claim to.

First official female trainer to win a Melbourne Cup | Sheila Laxon

Sheila Laxon became the first woman to formally train a Melbourne Cup winner when, in 2001, the New Zealand bred and owned mare, Ethereal, took out the great race.


(A previous lead-up win in the Caulfield Cup saw this this duo take out the "Cups Double" - something no other horse has since repeated.)


It wasn't until 2013 when trainer Gai Waterhouse won with Fiorente that an Australian female trainer won the race.

Laxon isn't a born and bred Kiwi as she was born in Pontypridd, Glamorgan, Wales - but she emigrated to New Zealand in the 1980s and married Kiwi trainer Laurie Laxon in 1983.


Laurie Laxon had a large stable with many successful horses with Sheila's first association with triumph in the Melbourne Cup coming in 1988 with that year's winner, Empire Rose, being a horse she rode in trackwork for her husband.


First ‘unofficial’ female trainer to win a Melbourne Cup | Hedwick McDonald (Mrs Allan McDonald)

Granny McDonald (second left) and others involved in the horse racing industry at an Agricultural and Pastoral show, Palmerston North. Credit: https://teara.govt.nz/

Hedwick Wilhelmina McDonald's (Mrs Allan McDonald) greatest achievement as a racehorse trainer does not appear in record books; nor does her real name.


A successsful trainer in New Zealand, she trained the winner of the 1938 Melbourne Cup - Catalogue.


Unfortunately, Club officials weren't quite as progressive as their Kiwi counterparts in 1938 and didn't recognise female trainers.


Thus, when Catalogue lined up at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November 1938, the gelding was officially “trained” by Granny's husband, jockey Allan McDonald and, after the horse's win, it was Allan's name that was officially recorded in the books.

In fact, she was very rarely known as Hedwick (or Mrs McDonald for that matter), and was mostly referred to as ‘Granny’.

McDonald was born on 28 April 1893 in Hastings as the elder of twin daughters of Hedwick Wilhelmina Douglass and John Maher, a racehorse trainer.


Granny's affinity with horses was evident from an early age with her winning her first prize in the show-ring at age five, and several years later winning against women. From the age of 11 she was helping exercise her father's thoroughbred charges.


In 1924 she became New Zealand's first female professional racehorse trainer and in the 1925/26 season alone, trained 17 winners (the leading tally was 36) - doing better than many long-established trainers.

Eight-year-old gelding Catalogue on his way to winning the 1938 Melbourne Cup
Eight-year-old gelding Catalogue on his way to winning the 1938 Melbourne Cup

On 30 January 1929, at Palmerston North, she married Allan William McDonald, a well-known steeplechase jockey.


With the patronage of several eminent owners, Granny McDonald became one of New Zealand's most successful racehorse trainers.


During the 1930s, horses from her stable won 196 races with only three other trainers producing more winners during the decade.

First woman to ride in a Melbourne Cup | Maree Lyndon in 1987

Maree Lyndon, now Maree Davey, is a well-known name in racing circles after having achieved a number of significant milestones in her career.


While Maree (aboard Argonaut Style) made history in 1987 when she broke the Melbourne Cup's gender barrier and became the first female to ride in the great race, she'd already achieved a number of impressive feats prior to that.

Photograph by Martin Hunter c/- Alexander Turnbull Library.

She was the first female jockey to win a Group I race in New Zealand when winning the 1982 New Zealand Cup on Sirtain whilst still an apprentice.


She also won two Group I Cup races across the ditch - the 1985 Group I Doomben Cup (2000m) on Awapuni galloper Mr Trick, and the 1987 Adelaide Cup aboard Takanini stayer, Lord Reims - seeing her become the first female rider to win a Group I 3200m race in Australia.


Back in New Zealand, she went on to win the 1990 Auckland Cup on Miss Stanima.


She also competed on the tough overseas circuits in Malaysia and Japan where she won 80 races.


Over the the course of her career she rode 544 winners - 428 of them in New Zealand.


It's been said that Maree was not a fan of being judged by her achievements as a woman, always preferring to be seen as a formidable rider when compared to both her male and female counterparts, rather than as a “female jockey”.

First female jockey to win a Melbourne Cup | Michelle Payne

Whilst we know we can’t actually claim Michelle herself; she does have a couple of Kiwi connections we felt worth mentioning...

The first being her mount, Prince of Penzance. He was a New Zealand-bred and sold thoroughbred, harking from Rich Hill Stud in Matamata before ending up in the stable of Darren Weir in Victoria.

He was deemed to be an outside chance and provided a bit of a shock to the racing world when he crossed the line first.

The second link to our shores was that Payne’s father Paddy was born and raised in South Taranaki and spent more than half of his life here. He had success as both a jockey and a trainer in New Zealand, and eight of his children were born in this country with only Michelle and Stevie born in Australia.

While we're no longer racing on 2 November here at Ellerslie, we've still got a lot of great Melbourne Cup content to come as Australasia leads up to the "great race".


Keep checking back here for more!

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