Payne’s sights set on the Lexus Melbourne Cup

28 March 2024 Written by VRC

Trainer Patrick Payne’s careful preparation is guiding talented stayer Dunkel towards the 2024 Lexus Melbourne Cup, with the Group 3 Lexus Roy Higgins as a key milestone along the way.

Decades ago, horse trainer Paddy Payne senior and his son Patrick attended a horse sale in New Zealand, aiming to secure a Melbourne Cup contender. Only two lots caught their eye, both by Blarney Kiss. The first exceeded their budget, but they managed to acquire the second colt, naming their first racehorse Our Paddy Boy.

Our Paddy Boy proved to be an outstanding racehorse in New Zealand and Australia, eventually sold to Robert Sangster for a substantial sum. The proceeds enabled the Paynes to purchase a farm in Victoria and a home in Miners Rest, Ballarat.

That young boy from the New Zealand sale is now a trainer himself, and is aiming to secure a golden ticket to the Lexus Melbourne Cup with his 4YO gelding, Dunkel.

“I believe he deserves a shot at earning a free pass to the Cup. Although he didn’t perform well at Pakenham, it was his first experience in serious big-race conditions, and he will have undoubtedly improved since then.

“The luxury of having a golden ticket to the Lexus Melbourne Cup is that we can plan our spring carnival lead-up races ourselves without worrying about securing a spot in the race,” he explained.

Payne, a former talented jockey, also expressed his honour at the prospect of winning a race named after champion jockey, the late Roy Higgins.

“I was in awe of him, and the wonderful part about him was that he was a fantastic person off and on the horse.

“Not only did he have a marvellous record of victories, he was also there to lend a helping hand to young jockeys. I can well remember the speeches he gave – they made so much sense to me,” he said.

Dunkel after winning well over 2000 metres at Flemington in January 2023. (Reg Ryan/Racing Photos)

Dunkel, purchased at a New Zealand Ready To Run sale, represents another opportunity for success.

“An old friend, Kevin Meyers, found the horse for us and suggested we acquire him. When I first saw him, I liked him. It’s funny, I had seen his sire, Dundeel, racing at a city meeting one night, and I remember thinking, ‘He looks like a foal, he’s that small.’”

“I was wrong, though. He might have been small but he had one hell of an engine and he’s managed to put that engine into so many of his foals. Yes, you have to be a bit patient but the rewards are certainly there,” he said.

The Payne family is deeply rooted in racing, with a highlight undoubtedly being the 2015 Melbourne Cup where Payne’s sister Michelle created history.

Dunkel’s journey is eagerly followed by devoted owners and friends as they await the outcome of Lexus Roy Higgins. Jockey Bill Egan will be aboard as they embark on their Melbourne Cup quest.

As a renowned horseman, Payne exports many of his top horses worldwide, many to Hong Kong, endeavouring to showcase their talent internationally.

“It’s a large part of my business, but it’s been successful. I strive to get very good horses offshore to show how good they are,” Payne said.

With Dunkel, he hopes to not only surpass past achievements but also fulfil a lifelong dream of Melbourne Cup glory.

Because, as fate would have it, the horse they missed out on at that New Zealand sale many years ago turned out to be none other than the 1983 Melbourne Cup winner, Kiwi.