The best – it’s one of those tireless conversations in horse racing, like what you’d do if you won the lottery.
In fact, the ‘best ever’ doesn’t really exist in this sport, because you can’t measure horses of different eras against each other.
The tracks were different, the weights. Even the stirrups. Nevertheless, we do it because we in racing have always done it, and we enjoy it. It’s the great debate of our sport.
Flipping through the lists contributed by The Roar‘s experts, I was surprised to find Carbine on top.
I suppose I tow the line with Warwick Hobson here, former editor of Turf Monthly, in holding Carbine our greatest thoroughbred, but probably not our greatest racehorse.
That honour belongs to Phar Lap, for clichéd as it is, almost boring you might say, Big Red won everything after he hit his straps as a three-year-old.
When he was defeated, there was an excuse. Close scrutiny of his life shows there was nothing he could not have done.
In my 2011 book on Peter Pan, I faulted Phar Lap in one critical area – opposition.
In my opinion, the greatest measure of a racehorse is what he defeats, and Phar Lap, between 1928 and 1932, beat little.
Outside of Amounis and Nightmarch, there were no outstanding champions going around. Trip forward a few years and you find yourself in one of the sharpest eras of Australian racing – Peter Pan, Chatham, Rogilla, Hall Mark, Lough Neagh.
I would have placed Peter Pan far higher than seventh on The Roar’s combined list.
The great chestnut won the AJC Derby at his fourth start, the Melbourne Cup at his seventh.
He broke the Australasian mile record as a five-year-old, defeated Chatham in track record time over seven furlongs. He went both ends of the spectrum; he could sprint and stay.
His second Cup victory proved he could go and go over any surface with any weight. And he is the only horse in our long turf history that can be decently compared with Phar Lap, occurring as he did in the same generation. Head to head, I believe Phar Lap would have been all at sea to defeat Peter Pan.
In racing, we have our favourites, favourites that bias our selections on the ‘best ever’ list. But while Peter Pan is my favourite, I can honestly say that this animal has few peers in our history. I would have placed Peter Pan in the top three of all time.
This guest expert article is by Jessica Owers, Author of Peter Pan: The Forgotten Story of Phar Lap’s Successor. Jess was kind enough to make a comment on Peter Pan’s position in The Roar’s Top 50 racehorses of all time, despite getting married this week.