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Makybe Diva rules Cox Plate stage

New Zealand didn't have a great day at Moonee Valley on Saturday, but it hardly mattered at the end of a marvellous Cox Plate won by the reigning queen of Australian racing, British-bred Makybe Diva (Desert King-Tugela by Riverman).

Even the petty carping in some quarters of the New Zealand racing media about the condition and design of the track, and the quality of the field, cannot diminish an extraordinary performance, and a contest as testing and thrilling as anyone could hope for.

New Zealand Horse of the Year Xcellent failed to cope with the slow track conditions and was thrown impossibly wide on the home turn as almost every runner lined up in a high-pressure drive for the line. He looks much more suited to Flemington and the Melbourne Cup, as long as he gets the firm footing he needs to show his best. The four-year-old gelding will have to lift his game considerably though, especially if Makybe Diva takes her place in the field. She is among the 37 third acceptors for the race.

Makybe Diva's dam Tugela, bred by Juddmonte Farms, was purchased at the 1998 Tattersalls December Mare Sale for 60,000 guineas, carrying the Desert King filly in utero. The mare was purchased by Australian bloodstock agent John Foote, a regular buyer at the Tattersalls December Sales. He was acting for Tony Santic's company Emily Krstina (Aust) Pty Ltd, the official breeder of Makybe Diva who was foaled in England and exported to Australia as a yearling.

With Saturday's victory Makybe Diva claimed the title of Australasia's all-time leading stake-earner from Sunline, who made her own headlines on Cox Plate day by foaling a colt to Zabeel at Coolmore just before midnight. Makybe Diva has now won $A11.4 million, from 14 wins and seven placings in a career totalling 35 starts. Her other five Group One wins are the 2003 and 2004 Melbourne Cups, the 2004 Sydney Cup, 2005 Australian Cup and 2005 STC Tancred Stakes.

The performances by those immediately behind the Diva on Saturday were excellent, with four-year-old mare Lotteria (Redoute's Choice-Rose Reward by Sir Tristram) sustaining an extremely game run for second. A winner at Group 1, 2 and 3 level as a three-year-old, she has made the difficult step up to open Group class racing, winning the STC Shannon S. G2 last month, and running third to Desert War and Johan's Toy in the AJC Epsom H. G1 on 1 October. She was awarded a Timeform Rating of 117 last season and had maintained that going into the Cox Plate. Lotteria's overall record is one any owner, breeder or trainer would covet: seven wins and four placings from 13 starts, all but four of them in Group company. Plus $1.18 million prizemoney!

She just held out the horse his part-owner and TVN commentator Bryan Martin called "the grand old man of the Cox Plate", Fields Of Omagh (Rubiton-Finneto by Cerreto). The eight-year-old has contributed his class and courage to four consecutive runnings of the race for a win (2003), a second (2004), this year's third and a fifth (2002). His Timeform Rating last season was 123, only two pounds less than Makybe Diva, and he went into this year's Cox Plate with a figure of 118, but surely ran up to his best ever form. FOO, as he's affectionately known, is one of those great competitors who test successive champions and remind us that class is also measured by the willingness to front up again, and yet again, in the Big Races. His record now reads eleven wins and 14 placings and $A4.1 million from 37 starts.

- Susan Archer