SPARE a maidenly blush for Makybe Diva. She must now trade in the orgasmic delight of finishing first in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington for the not-so-orgasmic delights of the breeding shed.
The queen of the track is to endure the fate of female aristocrats throughout history: arranged unions and dynastic pressures to continue her line.
As with any trophy bride of gentility, the bucks involved are big. According to Mike Becker, president of Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria, a good yearling foal of Makybe Diva by the world’s top breeding stallion, America’s Storm Cat, could sell for $US5 million to $US8 million ($A6.7 million to $A10.7 million).
“She is one of the great mares of all time. That would be a drawcard instantly,” Mr Becker said.
Such profits would make the cost of having her “served” by Storm Cat a triviality ($US500,000, plus the round-trip cost of $US40,000 for transporting her to the United States). What some people will do for a little bit of nookie.
Australia’s top sire, Redoute’s Choice, is by contrast a bargain at $200,000 plus GST for encounters that result in a pregnancy. This might prove a little too close for comfort for our Diva, as Redoute’s grand-sire was also hers, loading the genetic roulette wheel against any joint progeny.
But even an Aussie-sired foal might fetch a price tag of $2 million or more, says John Messara, owner of the Arrowfield Stud in NSW.
After the career-girl glamour of the track, the Diva will find the road to motherhood dignity-denting. Racing experts suggested yesterday that her owner, Tony Santic, might well rest her for a year as Australia is now halfway through its breeding season of September to December. But by this time next year, she will find herself at the very least sexually initiated – and in a way that makes all those minimal-foreplay jokes ring true.
Test-tube reproduction is forbidden to racehorses. “If you used artificial insemination, you could impregnate 10 mares from one ejaculate, and we are passionate about not getting a reduction in the genetic pool,” Mr Becker said. And in the world of equine sex, the gentleman makes the rules.
Makybe Diva will not only have to pay for her consorts but she will have to travel to meet them. Like Elvis at Graceland, a stud stallion can stay close to home and have the females flock to him. He can service up to 200 mares a season, and travelling time would cut into his precious productivity. (Yes, 200 is more than the number of days in the season. Stallions can perform up to three times a day, no Viagra required.)
A mating goes like this. A virginal horse (or maiden mare, as they are known) might first have her hymen ruptured by a vet to ensure ease of passage for the rite of passage. Then she will be placed near a “teaser” stallion. As she comes on heat, he will come on to her. She will sidle up to him and raise her tail; handlers will see her vulva moving.
A vet will be called in and will give the mare a rectal ultrasound to confirm that she has follicles ready to release eggs from her ovaries. On day three or four of her cycle, she will be mated.
She will be in a shed with a handler at her head holding a “twitch”, a long piece of wood or pipe that has string or rope at the end of it. This is twined around the fleshy part of the mare’s nose to discourage her from “misbehaving”.
“It probably borders on rape, but it’s not,” Mr Becker said. “You know she’s receptive. She’s heavily in season.”
But she might be nervous if she is inexperienced. “Stallions are very virile creatures who roar and tuck their necks in and bluster – just like a normal bloke.”
The stallion will sniff her and rub himself against her before rearing up on his back legs to mount her. A young stallion might need a helping hand if he is to find his way. The whole process takes about five minutes and the serious action only about two. “There’s not a lot of pillow talk,” Mr Becker admitted.
Sometimes stallions knock back a mare they don’t fancy, Mr Messara says. “Some stallions prefer grey mares. You can liken it to blondes.” A stallion who is unhappy will refuse to mount or fail to get an erection. The lady, on the other hand, “doesn’t get a choice – sorry about that. They express their dissatisfaction by kicking, but we hobble their hind legs in big leather shoes.”
Makybe Diva might keep a little more of her feminine self-respect. Her strapper, Christine Mitchell, yesterday said she would pity the first stallion the triple-Melbourne Cup champion met as a brood mare. “She’s got a wicked kick in her back end.”
All of which leaves open the central question about equine reproduction for anyone who has passed paddocks in springtime. How sizeable, exactly, is the stallion’s virile member?
Mr Messara was dumbstruck. “I’ve never paid that kind of attention to it.”
Perhaps if he were to ask a female strapper, who might have more of a sense of wonder about it all? “I’d get my face slapped!”
But in the interests of accuracy, he telephoned his stud manager who was in a breeding shed at the time. The answer came in the old parlance: two feet.
Another reason to take one’s hat off to the Diva.
First published in The Age.