Today, she’s the toast of the nation after proving all her critics wrong with her inspiring and historic Flemington victory, against seemingly impossible odds.
Her mother died in a car accident when she was just a baby, and although she followed her sisters and brothers into a career as a jockey it’s been a bumpy ride for Michelle.
At one point the injuries got so bad she came home one day and told her dad Paddy, a former jockey and trainer, that she was hanging up her boots for good.
But then along came Prince Of Penzance, a modest $50,000 yearling purchase from New Zealand, who rekindled Michelle’s childhood dream from the moment trainer Darren Weir first legged her aboard.
“Darren gave me a go when it’s such a chauvinistic sport,” says Michelle, the first female rider in the race’s 155-year history to win.
“I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off Prince and John Richards [a co-owner] and Darren really stuck with me.
“I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.”
Even the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was moved enough by Michelle’s dramatic 100-1 win to call her just minutes after the world’s most famous race.
“He said it’s great for females and to be a good role model and he believes I am and I try to be; so it’s just great.”
But Michelle says the biggest thrill of all was sharing the Flemington fairytale with her family who has stuck by her through all the ups and downs.
Michelle thanked all her seven sisters who were on course, including Bernadette, who aged 11, amid the family’s harrowing loss, would get up in the middle of the night to feed her baby sister a bottle, then fall asleep at school the next day.
The biggest hugs, however, were reserved for brother Stevie, Prince Of Penzance’s dedicated strapper and Michelle’s biggest fan.
Australia’s new poster boy for Down Syndrome success stories, Stevie sent his little sister out on the track before the race with the instruction, “Don’t get beat – I’ve got my money on you!”
When she returned to a rousing reception from the 100,000 crowd, Michelle, 30, says she’s never seen Stevie so emotional.
“My dad always said that when something bad happens, there’s something good around the corner.
“I believe Stevie was given to us because of what happened to my mum. He lives with my dad and he keeps him going – he’s an absolute blessing to our family.”