Diva queen of the decade
ON that first Tuesday in November in 2005, a whole nation stopped to watch as the great mare tried to do what everyone thought was impossible.
Even if you didn't back her, when The Diva sprinted to the lead halfway down the straight, you couldn't help but cheer.
We were watching racing history as Makybe Diva completed her Cup "three-peat" and secured a place among the pantheon of Australian turf greats.
There have been some mighty racehorses grace the turf over the last 10 years but none better than Makybe Diva.
As the decade draws to a close, The Daily Telegraph's racing editor Ray Thomas rates the 10 best racehorses of the era.
(1) Makybe Diva
Melbourne Cup (2003-04-05), Cox Plate (2005), Australian Cup (2005), The BMW (2005), Sydney Cup (2004)
Makybe Diva was once considered primarily a specialist 3200m handicapper. She won two races in the 2003-04 season and both were over the marathon distance with her rare Melbourne Cup-Sydney Cup double.
Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.
* Makybe Diva best of decade Courier Mail, 4 days ago
* Sunline or Northerly? Herald Sun, 10 Dec 2009
* My favourite Plate Adelaide Now, 23 Oct 2009
* Pricer won't dodge Whobe Adelaide Now, 13 Sep 2009
* Moody has plenty at stake Courier Mail, 4 Sep 2009
End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.
Lee Freedman then took over training Makybe Diva from Hong Kong-bound David Hall and successfully prepared the mare to become the first of her sex to win two Melbourne Cups in 2004.
But over the next 12 months, she showed extraordinary improvement. She was suddenly winning weight-for-age sprints over 1400m and was nearly unbeatable at 2000m and above.
In 2005, she won the Australian Cup, The BMW and Cox Plate then lined up to attempt an unprecedented third Melbourne Cup under the record weight of 58kg.
Glen Boss rode another perfect race on Makybe Diva and her third Cup triumph took her career earnings to an all-time record of $14.5 million.
Immediately after the race, Freedman and owner Tony Santic agreed the champion should be retired and that's when the trainer came up with his now-famous quote: "Go and find the smallest child on the course, because they will be the only person here who might see something like this again."
Makybe Diva truly was a phenomenon. We will never see her equal.
Cox Plate (2000), Hong Kong International Mile (2000), Manikato Stakes (2000), Doncaster Handicap (2002), Coolmore Classic (2000, 2002), All Aged Stakes (2000, 2002)
In any other decade, Sunline would have been rated the best race mare of her era. She was unfortunate to have raced in the same decade as a legend like Makybe Diva.
But for sheer popularity, longevity and will to win, there was no match for Sunline.
She raced at the highest level for five seasons, winning 13 Group One races and excelling at a distance range from 1200m to 2000m.
Invariably, Sunline led in her races, giving her opponents every chance to run her down but in 48 races, she was able to win 32 times - an amazing strike rate - earning more than $11 million prizemoney and three Horse of the Year titles.
Sunline's win in the 2000 Cox Plate - when she demolished a top-class field by seven lengths - and her fighting effort to hold off Shogun Lodge in a memorable 2002 Doncaster were perhaps her most famous victories.
Cox Plate (2001-02), Australian Cup (2001, 2003), Caulfield Cup (2002), Underwood Stakes (2001-02), Yalumba Stakes (2001)
Northerly met Sunline three times and beat her every time so there may be those who feel the Perth champion should be higher on this list.
The toughest of gallopers, Northerly would often appear to be struggling in his races but would soak up the pressure and forge past his rivals.
He was at his very best during the spring of 2002, reeling off successive wins in the Underwood Stakes, Turnbull Stakes, Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate.
His Caulfield Cup win was one of his finest, shouldering 58kg - the most carried successfully in the race since Ming Dynasty in 1980 - as he held off Fields Of Omagh's late surge to score a courageous win.
Trainer Fred Kersley then decided to run Northerly seven days later in the Cox Plate - a double not achieved since Tobin Bronze in 1967.
This was the best Cox Plate field since the famous 1992 renewal won by Super Impose but nothing could stop Northerly from winning the race for a second successive year as he comfortably defeated Defier and Grandera, with Sunline and Lonhro beaten out of the placings.
Northerly returned to win a second Australian Cup the next autumn but injury prematurely ended his magnificent race career.
Australian Cup (2004), Yalumba Stakes (2002-03), George Ryder Stakes (2003-04), George Main Stakes (2003), Caulfield Guineas (2001), Mackinnon Stakes (2002), Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2003), Orr Stakes (2004), Chipping Norton Stakes (2003)
Charismatic and sublimely gifted, there were few more exhilarating sights in horse racing over the last 10 years than watching the mighty Lonhro in full flight.
A magnificent thoroughbred near jet-black in colour, Lonhro was a crowd favourite. The John Hawkes-trained excitement machine had extraordinary powers of acceleration that swept him to 26 wins from 35 race starts including 11 Group One successes, the most by any galloper since 2000.
In this writer's opinion, his best two wins were his epic efforts in the 2002 Yalumba Stakes and 2004 Australian Cup.
In the former, he gave the great Sunline three lengths start on the home turn at Caulfield but showed tremendous courage to run her down in the shadows of the post to score an unforgettable win. His Australian Cup effort was stunning as twice in the straight Lonhro was stopped in his tracks yet recovered to snatch victory from Delzao.
Lonhro now stands at Darley Stud where he has become the hottest stallion prospect in the country.
(5) Takeover Target
Salinger Stakes (2004), Lightning Stakes (2006), Royal Ascot King's Stand Stakes (2006), Newmarket Handicap (2006), Japan Sprinter's Stakes (2006), Doomben 10,000 (2007), Singapore KrisFlyer International Sprint (2008), T J Smith Stakes (2009), The Goodwood (2009)
The Takeover Target story is so incredible they are making a movie about the racehorse that emerged from obscurity to become an international phenomenon, taking his trainer, former Queanbeyan taxi driver Joe Janiak, along for the ride.
Janiak purchased Takeover Target for just $1250 as a broken-down, unraced four-year-old gelding. He saw something in the horse, a latent sprinting talent that he believed could be realised.
When Takeover Target was retired earlier this year, he had exceeded even Janiak's wildest dreams, winning 21 races from 41 starts including eight at Group One level, and amassing more than $6 million prizemoney, an all-time record for a sprinter.
He was able to win in five capital cities across Australia and also scored major wins in England, Japan and Singapore.
Takeover Target stunned the English by winning the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2006 and campaigned there with credit for the next four years. Of his many superb wins, I felt there was nothing better than his runaway triumph in the T J Smith Stakes at Randwick last April, when he thrashed a top field of proven sprinters including Apache Cat and Nicconi.
(6) Weekend Hussler
Caulfield Guineas (2007), Coolmore Stakes (2007), Oakleigh Plate (2008), Newmarket Handicap (2008), Randwick Guineas (2008), George Ryder Stakes (2008), Underwood Stakes (2008)
Hailed as the "new Kingston Town" during an all-conquering three-year-old season, Weekend Hussler scored nine wins from his first 11 starts during 2007-08, including six at Group One level - joining "The King" as the only horses to achieve the feat since the Group and Listed race status system was introduced in 1978-79.
Weekend Hussler proved his champion qualities beating older horses in the Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket Handicap but I felt his best effort came in the George Ryder Stakes when he toyed with the outstanding Sydney champ Racing To Win.
Weekend Hussler reeled off a hat-trick of weight-for-age wins including the Underwood Stakes during the spring of 2008 but failed to stay when unplaced in the Turnbull Stakes and Caulfield Cup then suffered a serious leg injury after two unplaced runs when he resumed early last year. He has not raced since but is being prepared for a long-awaited comeback this year.
(7) Apache Cat
Australian Guineas (2006), Lightning Stakes (2008), Australia Stakes (2008-09), T J Smith Stakes (2008), BTC Cup (2008), Doomben 10,000 (2008)
In a decade which boasted exceptional sprinters including Takeover Target, Choisir, Alinghi, Fastnet Rock, Falvelon, Miss Andretti and Gold Edition, Apache Cat was one of the very best and earned a place on the top-10 list for his sheer consistency and longevity at racing's highest level.
The baldy-faced chestnut was conspicuous as much for his looks as his sprinting ability, which helped him to win 19 of his 43 starts and $4.2 million prizemoney. He went on a five-race Group One-winning spree during the autumn of 2008, winning majors in three states. He was also a close third in the 2008 Hong Kong International Sprint.
Tie The Knot
The BMW (2000), Chipping Norton Stakes (1999-00-01-02), Ranvet Stakes (2000-01)
A supreme stayer with two Sydney Cup wins in 1998-99, Tie The Knot proved his versatility during the latter stages of his career by becoming a dominant weight-for-age performer and capable of competing with the best sprinters in training.
Tie The Knot, a striking chestnut trained by Guy Walter, had brilliant acceleration and was able to win the Chipping Norton Stakes over 1600m four years in succession. In total, he won 13 Group One races, second only to Kingston Town's 14 triumphs, and during a long career, was still competitive to the very end, winning 21 of his 62 starts and more than $6.2 million prizemoney.
Victoria Derby (2003), Caulfield Cup (2004), Underwood Stakes (2004), Orr Stakes (2005), Dubai Duty Free (2005)
Often under-rated, Elvstroem's achievements on the racetrack should not be understated. A Victoria Derby winner at three, he trained on to become an outstanding galloper who scored a historic win in the Dubai Duty Free at the World Cup meeting in 2005 and also raced competitively in some of Europe's major weight-for-age races.
His best win was perhaps his 2004 Caulfield Cup triumph when he held off champion Makybe Diva in an unforgettable finish.
(10) Grand Armee
Doncaster Handicap (2003), Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2004-05), George Main Stakes (2004), Mackinnon Stakes (2004), Chipping Norton Stakes (2005), Queen Ranvet Stakes (2005)
A very consistent galloper who excelled at 1600m, Grand Armee rarely gets the kudos he deserves. He won 13 of his 31 starts, earning more than $5 million prizemoney, was a seven-time Group One winner and was also second at the highest level in another six races. He raced in an era of outstanding gallopers and more than held his own against the likes of Lonhro, Private Steer and Makybe Diva. He was outstanding over the Randwick 1600m course winning the 2003 Doncaster Handicap at just his eighth race start.
You may or may not agree with Ray Thomas' opinion on the decade's best gallopers, so we welcome your thoughts by emailing The Daily Telegraph's racing editor at firstname.lastname@example.org