By Mitch Fenton. 1st July 2015. @WeekendKingRace
The story of one of Australia’s greatest ever race horses, who would go on the become the first 3 time winner of the Melbourne Cup begins thousands of miles away from Flemington where the mare “became a legend”.
In December of 1998, millionaire “Tuna Fisherman” and racehorse enthusiast Tony Santic dispatched his bloodstock agent John Foote to the UK, to purchase him a broodmare. Foote decided on a mare out of Riverman (USA) named Tugela for 60,000 Guineas. The broodmare was in foal at the time of purchase to Irish 2,000 Guineas & Irish Derby winner Desert King.
As normally happens with Santic’s British-purchased horses, she was taken to Dick Fowlston’s Britton House Stud in Somerset to board before being sent on to Australia. Tugela gave birth to a filly at five minutes past midnight on 21 March 1999. The filly was offered for sale at the 1999 Tatts Newmarket foal sale, but as fate would dictate the foal did not make the reserve, so Santic decided to bring the foal as well as Tugela out to Australia.
As a unnamed 2 year old, and without an idea in the world of what to call the filly, Santic decided he would name it after 5 of his best and closest female employees. The 5 women were named Maureen, Kylie, Belinda, Diane, and Vanessa and so Santic took the first 2 letters of all 5 of their names and came up with the race name of Makybe Diva.
Santic nominated Melbourne trainer David Hall as the fillies trainer. But Hall maintained from the outset she was physically and mentally immature as a two year old and hence she never made it to the track during her two year old season.
On the 29th of July 2002, Makybe Diva made her racetrack debut in a 1200m, 3 year old maiden at Benalla in country Victoria. Ridden by Fabian Alesci, she could only manage 4th but Hall was over the moon with the way she hit the line from a long way back in the field, especially when her pedigree suggested she’d be much better out over more ground.
3 days after her debut the 3 year old filly became a 4 year old mare and now had to match it with the open age horses, not 3 year old restricted grade, but that didn’t stop her as she won her maiden at Wangaratta over 1600m being piloted this time by Vinnie Hall. That win started a 6 race winning sequence for the horse as she recorded victories at Sale, Ballarat and Flemington, before graduating to stakes grade in the Werribee Cup in which she again won. The last win in the sequence of 6 was the most important of the lot, the Group 2 Queen Elizabeth Stakes during Melbourne Cup week at Flemington, a win that guaranteed her a run in the following year’s Melbourne Cup, meaning that Hall could give the promising mare a light Autumn preparation. He did exactly that with the mare only having the two Autumn starts.
Makybe Diva resumed racing in the Spring of 2003 in a 1400m welter at Caulfield but while being reasonably competitive, her winning streak had well and truly wound up, but Hall wasn’t concerned he knew she was an out and out stayer and would only get better the further she ran. Second up at her next start in the Group 3 Stock Stakes, she came from behind to finish fourth, beaten by just over two lengths.
She then started 5-1 equal favourite in the Group 2 Turnbull Stakes, where she again raced at the back of the field, before finishing fourth, flying home, beaten by only one length.
It was then onto the Caulfield Cup where she started at 14/1 and despite racking up yet another 4th placing Hall described the run as the perfect Melbourne Cup trial. She settled down 16th of 18 in the run before sprouting wings late in the 2400m event.
Two and a half weeks later as an $8 2nd favourite, she did not let her legion of fans down winning the 2003 Melbourne Cup by over a length after sneaking her way right up the fence in a brilliant ride by Glen Boss.
2003 Tooheys New – Melbourne Cup
Winning Time 3:19.90 / Sectional 35.22 (L600m)
In the autumn of 2004, she resumed over 1400m carrying 59.5 kg followed by a third-place finish in the Group 3 Carlyon Cup. Following this, she was blocked for a run when making a winning run in the Australian Cup.
She was then taken to Sydney, where she placed third in the Ranvet Stakes and The BMW Stakes, both Group 1 races.
The Group 1 Sydney Cup over 3200m was to be her final run for the campaign and it was her grand final. Sent out as a $3.50 second favourite, she began off the pace, but ran home in typical fashion to record a win by half a length, in the process becoming the first mare to ever win the Sydney Cup/Melbourne Cup double in the same season, and only the fourth horse to have accomplished the double win.
Schweppes Sydney Cup
Winning Time 3:21.21 / Sectional 35.96 (L600m)
After the conclusion of the 2003-2004 season, trainer David Hall left to train in Hong Kong, and Makybe Diva was transferred to trainer Hall of Fame trainer Lee Freedman, generally regarded as one of Australia’s best trainers.
Her campaign in the spring of 2004 was aimed solely at winning the Melbourne Cup for a second time. She followed the pattern of her previous cup-winning campaign, and she appeared to be racing better than 12 months earlier. A close second in the Group 2 John F Feehan Stakes behind Lad of the Manor over 1,600m at Moonee Valley showed her competitiveness in shorter races and suggested she’d be awfully hard to beat once she gout out over a trip. In the 2004 Caulfield Cup, Makybe Diva drew barrier 18 and settled at the back of the field. She was narrowly defeated by Elvstroem, who for Nash Rawiller led all the way. But again it was a perfect top off run going into the Melbourne Cup of 2004, so much so she was trimmed up into a short priced favourite to go back to back.
“The Diva” was sent out a $3.60 favourite for the race and duly saluted on a wet and windy Melbourne afternoon thus making her the first mare to win two Melbourne Cups, and only the fifth overall to achieve the feat in the 140 year plus history of the race. She also broke the winning weight carrying record for a mare with 55.5kg.
2004 Emirates Melbourne Cup
Winning Time 3:28.55 / Sectional 37.63 (L600m)
Resuming racing in February, Makybe Diva put in close finishes behind Elvstroem in both the C F Orr Stakes and St George Stakes, at Caulfield in a lead up bid for the Australian Cup. On 12 March, she won the WFA Australian Cup, over 2,000m and in the process broke the Australian record and set an un-official world record for 2000m win on turf.
She then traveled north to Sydney again proceeded to win Sydney’s most important WFA race, the BMW Stakes, with a last-to-first burst, running down tearaway leader Grand Armee in the straight.
In April and May, she raced in Japan, where she failed in both of her two starts, the latter of which was over 3,200m in the Group One Tenno Sho (Emperor’s Cup). Freedman blamed himself for her below par performances saying he should never have run his champion mare on the rock hard Japanese track.
Makybe Diva was named Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year for the 2004/05 season. Along with this, she was also named Australian Champion Stayer and Australian Champion Filly and Mare. A three-quarter brother to Makybe Diva, by Redoute’s Choice, was sold in April 2005 for an Australian record price of $2.5 million. Subsequently named Musket, the colt won his debut at Canterbury in August 2006, and in 2008 won the Gr.2 Shannon Stakes at Rosehill.
Resuming racing in August 2005, Makybe Diva won the Group 2 Memsie Stakes first up, before being defeated by a nose in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes at Moonee Valley. Two weeks later, with a run down the outside of the field, Makybe Diva won the Turnbull Stakes over 2,000 m at Flemington. The champion mare added another jewel in her bulging crown by claiming the Cox Plate with arrogant ease, completing the career Cox Plate / Melbourne Cup double.
2005 Carlton Draught W S Cox Plate
Winning Time 2:09.27 / Sectional 36.17 (L600m)
The talk straight away after her Cox Plate win turned to weather she would run in the 2005 Melbourne Cup after being slugged with a handicap of 58kg, 2kg above weight for age for a mare, so it was the equivalent of a male horse having to lug 60kg over 2 miles.
Trainer Lee Freeman said the mare would attempt to win an historic 3rd Melbourne Cup, so long as the track wasn’t too firm and would put her at risk of serious injury carrying such a big weight. However it was only a ‘sneaky’ ploy by Freedman who was always going to start her in the race, but he just wanted the track to be watered by the VRC who were desperate to see her run in the race. Plenty often bag Freedman and Makybe Diva’s 3rd win claiming they manufactured conditions to suit here but that’s flawed logic because the VRC always water the track and by the time the Melbourne Cup jumped the track was officially rated a good 3, not rain effected at all.
On the 1st of November 2005 ‘a champion became a legend’ as Makybe Diva became the first ever 3 time winner of Australia’s greatest race, after Glen Boss gave her an inspired ride for the 3rd year in a row. The last horse to carry more than weight-for-age and win was Rain Lover, that was 1 kg over when he won his second cup in 1969, with 60.5 kg.
Makybe Diva, broke her own weight-carrying record for a mare of 55.5 kg, which she set in 2004 and was the highest-weighted winner of the Cup since Think Big won his second Melbourne Cup with 58.5 kg in 1975.
During the presentation of the Melbourne Cup, owner Tony Šantić announced that Makybe Diva would “retire from racing as of today”
Lee Freedman was quoted after the race as saying “Go find the smallest child on this course, and there will be the only example of a person who will live long enough to see that again.”, then when questioned as to whether Makybe Diva was as good as Australian legend Phar Lap he simply replied “Phar Lap didn’t win 3 Melbourne Cups’.
2005 Emirates Melbourne Cup
Winning Time 3:19.79 / Sectional 35.48 (L600m)
At the end of the 2005-06 season, Makybe Diva was named Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year for the second time, becoming just the third horse to win that accolade more than once. She was also named Australian Champion Stayer, winning this award for the third consecutive year, as well as Australian Champion Middle Distance Racehorse.
In 2006, the inaugural Spirit of Sport Award (for 2005) was given to Makybe Diva and her connections (Lee Freedman, Tony Šantić, and Glen Boss) by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame for her three successive Melbourne Cups.
On the 4th of July 2006, Makybe Diva was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.
Makybe Diva was also honoured with a life size statue on the front lawn of the Flemington racecourse, meaning she will forever be immortalised at the track where she re-wrote Australia sporting folklore.
On the 10th of August 2006, it was announced that Makybe Diva would be served by Epsom Derby winner Galileo at Coolmore Stud.
At 3:16 on the morning of 17 August 2007, AEST time, Makybe Diva gave birth to her first foal, named Rockstardom, at Coolmore Stud in the Hunter Valley of NSW. Sold for AU$1.5 million as a yearling in 2009, he won two races in 12 starts, earning $26,115 over three years. Rockstardom was gelded and died of a skull fracture in his stall at C. Waller’s stables on 26 July 2013. But he had showed very little racing ability in the mean time.
Makybe Diva was due to be served by Encosta De Lago in the spring of 2007 until the outbreak of equine influenza forced the stud to be quarantined. Owner Tony Šantić sent the Diva to American champion Fusaichi Pegasus, instead. On 20 August 2008, Makybe gave birth to her second foal, a filly by the aforementioned Fusaichi Pegasus. This filly, later named La Dolce Diva, sold at auction for $1.2 million to trainer Mark Kavanagh of Melbourne. Makybe Diva had a colt on 28 August 2009 by Encosta De Lago and was covered by More Than Ready for the 2010 season, but she did not produce a foal in 2010.
Makybe Diva gave birth to her fourth foal, a bay colt by Lonhro, on 16 August 2011 in Victoria. Her fifth foal, born in September 2012, is a colt sired by High Chaparral.
It’s fair to say she’s been a total disappointment at stud, not producing any quality horses at all, but that takes nothing away from her on track heroics.
Makybe Diva will forever be immortalised as one of our greatest ever racehorses / sporting athletes to ply her trade in Australia. Thnks to the fact she won our great race 3 times, the first ever horse to do it under the gruelling handicap conditions of the race. She will never be forgotten. What she achieved hadn’t been achieved in 140 plus years since the first running of the race in 1962 and it’s unlikely a horse will ever be able to emulate her three-peat due to the handicap conditions that slug previous Cup winners with big weights.
When Greg Miles said ‘a champion becomes a legend’ as Makybe Diva crossed the line to win her 3rd Melbourne Cup, he wasn’t just referring to her as a legend of Australian racing, but as a legend of Australian sport & her legend will live on forger.
THE CHAMPION MARE’S 3 MELBOURNE CUP WINS + THE SYDNEY CUP & BMW
2003 Melbourne Cup
2004 Melbourne Cup
2004 Sydney Cup
2005 Melbourne Cup