Legend of Makybe Diva Grows

A legend grew at Flemington March 12 as Makybe Diva soared to new heights in winning the Australian Cup (Aust-I). The two-time Melbourne Cup (Aust-I) heroine, at the same oval, expanded her empire beyond handicaps, and with a panache any Diva would kill for.

Her first ever win at weight-for-age came in a suitably lavish production; this Cup is second only to the W.S. Cox Plate (Aust-I) at a middle distance.

Has any horse stopped the clock at 1:58.73 for 2,000 meters on grass? Some galloped into print to claim a "world" record, but it could only apply where racing is conducted over metric distances. It certainly shattered Northerly's track mark of 1:59.46 set in the 2000 Cup.

There were 100,000-plus at the Melbourne track last November to see the 6-year-old Desert King mare become the first distaffer and fifth to win consecutive Melbourne Cups. Only a third made it back, but their enthusiasm was similarly unbridled after the Diva led the only other female of seven runners, Winning Belle, by a length at the wire. Pandemonium ensued.

As her owner, Tony Santic, has a $200 million (Australian funds) tuna fishing business at Port Lincoln in South Australia, it stopped being about the money a long time back for Makybe Diva. But let's be common and count it; her $655,000 cut from the $1 million purse chased her earnings to $7,872,135 -- from 10 wins and six placings at 28 appearances. Sunline's $11,690,679 might yet be within reach.

Since it evolved from another long-distance handicap 23 years ago, the Australian Cup is the Victoria Racing Club's major fall event. Famously, 17 years ago, the race was a "match" between champions Bonecrusher and Vo Rogue, but a 125-1 shot named Dandy Andy relegated them to the minors. And for just a few moments into the lane in 2005, history appeared a chance of repeating; as the Gai Waterhouse-prepared Winning Belle (by Zabeel) exploded into the lead 400 meters out.

Elvstroem, "Elvis" to his legion of fans and sent off at 10-9 to shade Makybe Diva's 15-8, was already "gone." The Diva was momentarily in traffic after being last to the final bend. But Glen Boss was able to follow Winning Belle (13-1) through and mount a challenge near the 200 meters pole. It was here Makybe Diva and her pilot had a momentary altercation. As they arrived at the contest sooner than he wanted, Boss gave her a slap with the whip as a reminder the race was still on. She resented this and ducked in, forcing him to stop riding and straighten. Having made their respective points, they reeled Damien Oliver and his mount just inside the 100 meters peg.

Tony Vasil, handler of Elvstroem said it was a 'humbling experience' when Danehill's winner of nearly $4 million uncharacteristically plugged into fourth, a half head from the third placed Lad of the Manor -- another Zabeel -- 4 1/2 lengths from the winner. Official sectionals indicated Elvstroem broke 1:22 for the first 1,400 meters and tiptoed home in :35.12 to Makybe Diva's :33.87. Elvstroem's trip for the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-II) is in the balance.

Owner Tony Santic and trainer Lee Freedman will back her up in the $2 million Tancred Stakes March 19. Grand Armee, a four-time group I winner this season, awaits her for the Rosehill 2,400 meters, and Gai Waterhouse might also bring Winning Belle home for a return bout.

Makybe Diva has a two-start schedule in Japan, where Desert King works at East Stud; the Antares Stakes (Jpn-III, 1,800 meters) April 24 as a prep for the Tenno Sho (Jpn-I, 3,200 meters) also at Kyoto May 1.

The best staying mare in more than a century in Australasia is something of a United Nations kinda gal. Her Croatian-born owner is also listed as her breeder, because her mother, Tugela was bought carrying her for 60,000 guineas (English funds) at the 1998 Tattersalls December sale.

Tugela, a U.S.-bred daughter of Riverman, from a Roberto daughter, had been owned by Juddmonte, which sold her to Irish farm Ballylinch, for 20,000 guineas at the same sale a year earlier, after two unplaced starts. Santic's people didn't want to subject the filly to the arduous flight to Australia and tried to sell her at the 1999 Tatts Newmarket foal sale. She was an RNA at 19,000 guineas.