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(E) Here's to Tony, he's a bloody legend
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  11/15/2003 | Sports | Unrated
(E) Here's to Tony, he's a bloody legend
Distributed by CroatianWorld


Here's to Tony, he's a bloody legend

08nov03WHETHER they won money on her or not, everyone in Port Lincoln it seems is now riding on the back of Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva.

The Eyre Peninsula city, best known for its tuna industry, was this week soaking up its time in the spotlight as the new heart of Australian horse racing.

Headlines in the local paper tell the story: "It's Our Cup" and there's already a suggestion one of the city's streets should be named after the champion mare.

There's also plenty of praise for the man with the rags to riches story who made it happen.

"Tony Santic's a bloody legend," an enthusiastic female fan shouted down the microphone during a karaoke party at the Grand Tasman Hotel after Lincoln's own Ladies Oaks Day race meeting on Thursday.

Santic expects returning to his home town next week will be the impetus for it to "all sink in".

Born in Croatia, there is no doubt about the place he calls home – the place his parents Joseph and Tonka came to work cutting railway sleepers before they went into fishing.

"They say you're on cloud nine – I'm well above that," he said in some "quiet" time at his Smyzter Lodge breeding farm in Geelong.

Yet the man the town cannot wait to toast in person is still at a loss to explain exactly how he captured the cup.

"I don't know if it's a rags to riches story," he said. "It's more than a fairytale, more than a story – it's something I can't even believe myself.

"We all talk about going to the Melbourne Cup but never plan on winning it."

He admits he doesn't know "if I've broken even or in front or behind" with his $1 million betting win on Makybe Diva.

"It's only getting some of mine back, I must admit," he said.

"I wouldn't say I was a big punter. You always lose more than you win I think."

Tuna Boat Owners Association president Brian Jeffriess said things were far from this good in Santic's past. In the 1980s he was caught up in the troubles faced by both the tuna industry and the South East fishery.

"Wherever he went, due to circumstances beyond his control, things went wrong," Mr Jeffriess said. "Instead of landing on his feet, he landed on his posterior."

Jeffriess said with Tony being so much younger than the rest of the major tuna boat owners when the good times eventually arrived, "if anyone was going to be spoilt by the success it was going to be him". "But he wasn't."

Santic is one of few owners who still goes out to sea and fishes each season and is known around town as "a gentleman".

Plenty of beers have been downed at the Grand Tasman since the horse named after Santic's secretaries won the top prize in Australian racing.

Publican Matt Rogers hinted that plenty of people, including himself, had won a lot of money by backing Makybe Diva and Santic was rumoured to have shouted the bar.

The parties are expected to continue over the weekend, peaking when Santic returns with the cup, most likely on Tuesday, to a street parade and possibly a civic reception, in scenes reminiscent of Dean Lukin's 1984 Olympic weightlifting gold.

Although Makybe Diva has never even been to Port Lincoln – she was bought in London as a foal at foot and transported to Melbourne when Santic could not find a buyer for her – many residents and regular visitors to the town have links to Santic and the Makybe Diva success story.

Trackside at Port Lincoln on Thursday was Phil McEvoy, 47, a top regional jockey for 20 years and father of Melbourne Cup winning jockey Kerrin McEvoy, who rode Brew to victory in the race in 2000 and ran seventh on Distinctly Secret on Tuesday.

On crutches after hurting his ankle in a Melbourne Cup Carnival celebratory fall, McEvoy celebrated Santic's win with the tuna king on Tuesday.

"I had a win too – I liked the horse and had a good backing on her. Tony and I were talking last year that she would win the Melbourne Cup," McEvoy said.

"Now she has, you'll find people around here will start forming racing syndicates, his friends buying horses to try to emulate a bit of what Tony has done."

Another now-famous face at the Port Lincoln races was jockey Clare Lindop, who rewrote the history books by becoming the first Australian woman to ride in the Melbourne Cup.

Lindop, 24, was still on a high after "the one-off opportunity to have a dream come true" ride, but had to quickly come back down to earth this week with rides at Murray Bridge on Wednesday and Lincoln on Thursday.

Port Lincoln resident Julie Chung, 34, backed Makybe Diva for a win as it was considered a local horse. "It's nice to see someone from Port Lincoln do well – we're really proud," she said.

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