Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chapter 8 - (will jump back to Chapter 3 later)


A Champion Becomes A Legend

Makybe Diva

I have to detour for a moment, to explain how serendipitous our lives are and how one of those twists of fate affected my life and indirectly my appreciation for my little hero. Tom and Heather Rossi have become two of our closest friends in Brantford. Our son Adam and their daughter Jen dated for several months as seniors at BCI. Jen was like the daughter we never had and the entire Rossi clan loved Adam. We met Tom and Heather through the kids and long after they broke up (much to our collective disappointment) we remain close friends. I fell in love with little Jen the first time I saw her on the basketball court as an 11 year old buzz saw. Little did I know then, the influence she would have on our lives much, later. She was and is an incredible athlete and an outstanding soccer player. Her tiny size was a liability on the basketball court but she more than made up for that with her speed, athleticism and desire. While Adam was graduating from Brock University in Ontario, Jen was graduating from the University of British Columbia. She remained in BC to launch her career in environmental science while Adam started teaching in South Korea. They are both a long way from home but in our thoughts every day and we communicate with them as much as we do the rest of the family here in Ontario.

Tom and Heather’s son Scott has become another close friend of the family. He graduated from Guelph University in 2001 with a Business degree. After several summers working at The Oaks of St George golf course (while attending Guelph) he started a career as an assistant pro at Idylwylde in Sudbury (thanks to his contacts at The Oaks). Our son Andrew graduated from Nippissing University a year later in 2002 with a business degree and never left North Bay, thanks to Scott. Andrew walked right into a perfect situation as the assistant pro at the North Bay Golf and Country Club where he is still a member today and still shares a house with the pro Jeff Mancini. Scott had become pretty close to Jeff through his contacts in Sudbury and called late one night to suggest Andrew look into the opportunity.

As our lives continued to intertwine, Scott and his lovely fiancĂ©e Jenn Farrugi spent a year in Australia where she completed her Masters in education and he continued to work in the golf business. Shortly after they came home we were enjoying some of the tales of Australia over dinner when the subject of the Melbourne Cup came up. Scott and Jenn were hardly racing fans but said you couldn’t help but be a fan in Australia on Melbourne Cup day. I had just started my detailed research into the Dancer’s impact on International racing when I looked to Australia for the first time, thanks to Scott and Jenn. It was just days before the 2005 Melbourne Cup and I wagered Scott (figuratively speaking) the winner would be a descendant of our Dancer. By time Melbourne Cup day rolled around it was like 1964 all over again as I watched and rooted for the Dancer’s great, great granddaughter Makybe Diva.

Fast Forward to November 1,2005

Is there a better tribute to Northern Dancer than his great, great granddaughter, Makybe Diva?
The seven year-old mare is on the verge of becoming Australia’s greatest thoroughbred of all time. Comparisons have been made to the legendary Phar Lap and Bernborough but a win today would make it 3 consecutive Melbourne Cups against the best boys in the country and solidify her position in Australia racing history.

Australia shuts down at 3 pm AEST for 3 minutes on the first Tuesday in November every year to listen to or watch the Melbourne Cup. Even Parliament would shut down this year to listen to their national heroine’s attempt at history. Just like her great, great grandfather, she too has captured the hearts of a nation. The Melbourne Cup is the pinnacle of the Spring Racing Carnival. With well over 100,000 people in attendance it is as much an event as it is a horse race. Flowing champagne, extravagant fashions and partying, make the Melbourne Cup similar to the Kentucky Derby but the comparisons end there. The involvement of the entire country makes the Kentucky derby look like a family picnic compared to the Aussie’s Cup (just kidding Kentucky). It was estimated 8 out of every 10 Australian’s were tuning in to the big race.

The Diva’s story will undoubtedly be told in many forms but in so many ways her story is similar to our Dancer’s.

Conceived in Ireland and born in England she was unwanted at auction and her owner Tony Santic, an Australian Tuna magnate shipped her off to his native land to race. Perhaps it was the inbreeding to the Dancer that frightened people off, it is becoming a challenge to avoid inbreeding with Northern Dancer because of his global influence as a sire but thanks to the Diva, breeders may be less concerned about divergent blood lines. Northern Dancer shows up in three of the eight, great, great-grandsire slots in her pedigree. On her sire, Desert King’s side you have the Dancer’s sons Danzig and Nureyev. On the dam, Tugela’s side you have the Dancer’s daughter Katsura.

She has a colorful breeder and owner in Tony Santic, he is the one wearing his trademark blue and red mask, wait a minute … there are thousands wearing those silly masks on this Melbourne Cup day. When I first encountered Makybe Diva and heard her name pronounced, I thought it was Australian slang for something but it wasn’t. Makybe Diva was named for 5 of Tony Santic’s staff in his Tuna operations. MAureen Dellar, KYlie Bascomb, BElinda Grocke, DIanne Tonkin and VAnessa Parthenis will forever be part of Australian folklore.

David Hill trained the ‘Diva’ for her first year of racing and her first Melbourne Cup. David Hill left for greener pastures in Hong Kong. Makybe’s handling was transferred to the colorful trainer Lee Freedman who has done a masterful job in preparing her for the last two Cups.

Jockey Glen Boss was not impressed when he first saw Makybe finish fourth in her maiden race but his opinion changed the first time he was given a chance to ride the special mare “It was like getting out of an old bomb into a really good car," he says. "If you asked her to run through a wall, she'd ask how fast and how many walls." This would be his 3rd Cup aboard the champion mare who already owns many Australian records including the most prize money won. This would be the most emotional race of Glen Boss’s career.

The nation held its collective breath for the next three minutes and 19 seconds. Makybe was off to a good start from barrier 14 in the 24, horse field and able to get over near the rail early on. She was well off the pace in the backstretch and trying to negotiate a path to attack the leaders. At the top of the stretch she was in the middle of a huge throng of horses but in typical Diva fashion she accelerated through a narrow gap to overtake the leaders with 150 meters to go. It was another great call from track announcer Greg Miles almost sounding surprised when he spotted her coming out of the crowd “and here’s Makybe Diva … a Nation roars for a hero, she’s starting to wind up” as she took the lead and “a champion becomes a legend” as she crossed the wire. It was an amazing finish that left everyone spent, including the thousands who cheered her on despite having their money riding on other horses (one of the boys was the betting favorite).

History was made. Glen Boss covered his face to hide his tears after they crossed the finish line. On his way back to the stretch and the winner’s circle, Boss could not stop the tears as he was being interviewed “I owe her so much … I will take this moment to my grave”. If you have a chance, look for film of the race on the Internet ( of Australia did a great job of coverage). The camera angle from the infield on the return trip down the stretch was reminiscent of a scene in the movie Seabiscuit but this was really happening (it sent shivers down my spine). This would be her last race. Tony Santic announced her retirement to her adoring public on the winner’s podium.

Her record was 15 wins, 4 seconds and 3 thirds in 36 starts. She earned $14,426,685 (over $10,000,000 US) and won the hearts of a Nation. She inherited the crooked white star on her forehead from her great, great grandfather and I think it was safe to say she inherited his heart also. Her racing story is over and could not have ended on a better note. It will be interesting to follow her career as a mother and watch the development of her “million dollar” babies.

Thank you Makybe for providing such inspiration for doing this research and if I can make a suggestion … Makybe would make great Australian slang for something … perhaps … champion or legend.

Thank you Scott (and Jenn) Rossi for bringing back your Australian memories of the Melbourne Cup, which triggered me to watch the exploits of this extraordinary mare.

Melbourne Cup 2005 - Makybe Diva's Third Melbourne Cup Victory

Images of Makybe Diva

Makybe Diva's website

Makybe Diva Pedigree

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