11/01/2005 1:00AM

A three-peat for Makybe Diva

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In the "race that stops a nation," Makybe Diva stopped Australia and 23 rivals cold as she scored an unprecedented third consecutive triumph in the $3.8 million Melbourne Cup Handicap at Flemington on Tuesday.

Carrying high weight of 128 pounds, Makybe Diva cruised to the lead under Greg Boss approaching the furlong pole in the two-mile marathon to defeat On A Jeune by 1 1/4 lengths. Xcellent was half a length further back in third, with Irish invader Vinnie Roe eighth and Japanese challenger Eye Popper 12th. British invaders Distinction and Franklins Gardens finished 19th and 24th.

Sent off as the 3-1 choice, Makybe Diva covered the two miles in 3:19.17 on dead, or yielding, ground.

Makybe Diva ends her brilliant career in diva-like fashion, as owner Tony Santic and trainer Lee Freedman, who won his fifth Melbourne Cup, decided to retire Makybe Diva on this highest of high notes. During the past year, Makybe Diva, a British-bred daughter of Irish Derby winner Desert King, has won five Group 1 races - the Melbourne Cup twice, the 1 1/2-mile BMW Classic, the Australian Cup in which she set a Flemington course record of 1:58.73 for 1 1/4 miles, and the 1 1/4-mile Cox Plate - plus a pair of Group 2 contests, the seven-furlong Memsie Stakes and the 1 1/4-mile Turnbull Stakes. She retires as the richest filly or mare in racing history, with earnings of $10,759,186 from 15 victories in 36 career starts.

Best Mate dies

Best Mate, three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase, died of an apparent heart attack in his seasonal debut at Exeter Racecourse in England on Tuesday.

A 10-year-old steeplechaser, Best Mate was running in the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup Chase when disaster struck. After prompting the pace, his rider, Paul Carberry, noticed something was amiss and began easing him down shortly before entering the stretch, where Best Mate collapsed and died. The Haldon was Best Mate's first start since Dec. 28 at Leopardstown, where he had finished second to Beef Or Salmon in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase.

Best Mate won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, widely regarded as the best steeplechase race in the world, three times in succession, between 2002 and 2004, joining Cottage Rake at that mark and leaving him two behind five-time winner Golden Miller. Best Mate was preparing for a fourth Gold Cup title last March when he broke a blood vessel in training on the eve of the race, forcing his withdrawal.

Trained by Henrietta Knight and owned by Jim Lewis, Best Mate won 14 of 22 career starts for earnings of $1.75 million.