Historic hat-trick the stuff of legends
Hands up if you backed the winner: jockey Glenn Boss salutes the jubilant crowd as Makybe Diva returns to the Melbourne Cup winners' enclosure for the third straight year. Picture: Paul Trezise
DIVA fever started early at Flemington yesterday – and will be a long time finishing.
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Trainer Lee Freedman summed it up perfectly as he emerged from the bar in which he had watched his amazing mare Makybe Diva win her third Melbourne Cup, a feat never achieved in the 144 years that Australia's most famous race has been generating folklore and legends. "Go and find the smallest child on this course and you'll have the only person who'll live long enough to see this again," he said, fighting to control his emotions.
A few days earlier, he had expressed the same sentiment slightly differently: "If the fairytale comes true and she runs and wins, we'll never see the like again." Well, it did come true – and he's right. We won't.
We certainly won't see Makybe Diva again, with Freedman and owner Tony Santic deciding before the trophy
presentation that the horse had done more than enough and would not be asked to race again.
The day will never be forgotten by the 106,479 who packed the nation's premier racecourse to witness an animal achieving the sort of immortality few humans manage.
For them and for the millions more who were transfixed by TV sets, it was as if they had been transported by time machine back to 1930 when the incomparable Phar Lap won the Cup on the way to dominating the Spring Racing Carnival like no other horse has done, including mighty Makybe.
Since the Diva won last month's Cox Plate, the race the purists rank above the Cup as a true test of a racehorse's greatness, arguments have raged non-stop about whether she is entitled to stand alongside Big Red as the best we've seen.
Freedman has been among those who regard such a debate as essentially futile because so much has changed, but even he said yesterday: "I don't want to put down Phar Lap, but I haven't seen him win three Melbourne Cups." Indeed, Phar Lap won only one – and only four others managed two.That daunting spot of history combined with various other reasons to convince many that the task would be beyond Makybe Diva, although the skeptics were like everyone else – they dearly wanted to see her win, and were willing her to do so.
That's why she was always the hot favourite, even when Freedman and Santic were threatening not to run her if they felt the task and the track would be too hard.
Even long before the race she was the centre of amazing scenes – at first, without even being there.
More than three hours before the race, a Freedman stable strapper led a horse into the holding stall No 75, with her name over the door. Instantly, almost 200 people materialised and, standing eight deep, began snapping away with cameras and mobile phones.
The startled strapper suddenly realised what was happening and told them they had the wrong horse and Makybe hadn't arrived yet. It made little difference. They kept taking photographs of each other standing in front of the empty box.
And when the Diva did turn up, accompanied by three security guards, it was elbow room only in the sweaty heat for well over two hours until Freedman arrived to dress her for her big date.
The race itself was almost an anti-climax in the competitive sense, so early did jockey Glen Boss have the horse in a perfect position and so authoritatively did she complete the job.
It was the easiest of her three wins and the fast-talking Sydney hoop, who has partnered her in them all, said: "I have never enjoyed a race so much."
That probably applied to the entire awestruck crowd, who stood to salute as the Diva passed the post and stayed on their feet until the ceremonial aftermath was complete.
If there has been a more uplifting "great moment in sport" in recent Australian memory, then it can only have been at precisely the same place and time three years ago when Damien Oliver won on Media Puzzle, saluting his dead brother as he did so.
Freedman mused that perhaps the monumental Olympic performances of swimmer Kieren Perkins and runner Cathy Freeman might be up there, and suggested his own sporting hero, boxer Muhammad Ali, could enter into such a debate.
"But they weren't asked to carry 58kg of dead weight," he noted dryly.
Of one thing, though, he was certain – after the Cox Plate, Makybe Diva was the best horse he'd trained and now she was the best he'd seen.
If there was a soul on the racecourse prepared to disagree with that, he or she went unheard above the applause for a horse who will be talked about reverently for another 75 years – at least.