“The breaker, the Diva and the biggest Cup ever.”
By Andrew Stevenson
October 31, 2005
“She must have a heart as big as Ned Kelly with lungs the size of 44 gallon drums”…
Makybe Diva’s trainer, Greg Bennett, on another charge at his Scone property.
Photo: Dallas Kilponen
When it comes to breaking horses, Greg Bennett is not much of a fan of the racetrack – no matter how well bred the horses or how ambitious their owners. Instead, he teaches them to stand tied up for five or six hours. To go through gates. To ride through the bush.
“I teach it to be a horse before I teach it to be a racehorse because I think there’s more to life than running around a racetrack,” he said.
Bennett, 47, has broken more horses than he cares to remember. Some end up chasing cattle – one, Ha Ha, won a Golden Slipper. But in 30 years of running kindergarten classes for yearlings and two-year-olds, one stands out: Makybe Diva.
On heartbreak hill, the rough rise at the back of Bennett’s Scone property, many a horse has run out of puff – especially when hefting along Bennett’s 85 kilogram handicap.
“I could work it up the hill, and [Makybe Diva] could carry me up the hill and not be blowing,” he recalled. “And over the years I’ve ridden plenty who’d be lucky to get halfway up.”
If style really is grace under pressure, Makybe Diva’s many outings confirm she has it in spades. Bennett reckons it has always been there.
“She was a totally relaxed, gorgeous animal that never let anything worry her. If we were up the bush and there was a hole or a stump – or a kangaroo jumped out – she didn’t freak out, she was able to get around it even the first time she saw it,” Bennett said. “She was very smooth to ride; you could almost sit on her back, canter along, roll a smoke and drink a cup of tea at the same time.”
With about 140 horses coming through his breaking and pre-training each year, Bennett’s eye is good. “You can tell pretty quickly which ones are going to be well above average and which ones – barring accidents – are going to be in the top echelon. You can also tell quickly which ones are the complete dodos,” he said. “Obviously, owners don’t like to hear that.”
Kevin Williams, racing manager for Makybe Diva’s owner, Tony Santic, did not have to. After Makybe Diva’s second stint at Scone, Bennett had made up his mind. For starters, he would not let anyone else ride her.
“I rang Kevin after a couple of weeks and said ‘Kevin, this thing is going to be pretty smart’,” Bennett said.
And if anyone is worried about the weight tomorrow, Bennett is not. If she can carry him through the bush, 58 kilograms should not pull her up.
“History tells you she can’t win with that weight but I don’t think it will bother her. My only worry is how well she’s recovered from her last race.
“She must have a heart as big as Ned Kelly with lungs the size of 44 gallon drums.”
That wonderful Cox Plate win cracked the horseman’s facade.
“I burst into tears. It was pure emotion that got the better of me,” Bennett said. “You do have a soft spot for her. Being the first bloke in the world to ever ride her, to have ridden her for a long time before jockeys got on her, you get to know them very well. I love her to death. If I never train another champion horse at least I’ll know I had one really good one in my lifetime. She’s something special.”