The Roar’s 50 greatest Australian horses of all time: Peter Pan should be top 3

Jessica Owers Roar Rookie

By Jessica Owers, Jessica Owers is a Roar Rookie


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    Peter Pan winning the 1933 AJC St Leger (Image: Wikipedia Creative Commons :: Family Collection)

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    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.

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    The Crowd Says (6)

    • Roar Guru

      May 20th 2013 @ 11:35am
      sheek said | May 20th 2013 @ 11:35am | ! Report

      Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for your informative input.

      This is the first time I have ever done this exercise with such concentrated scrutiny.

      I have no doubt as I revisit my selections in the future, along with those of Justin & Andrew, I will undoubtedly reassess the value of each horse. Some will be upgraded, others downgraded.

      I agree the opposition faced is certainly something that needs to be taken into consideration. This is one reason why I query Black Caviar’s celebrated standing among the general public.

      I have no doubt if/when I revisit this exercise in two, or three years time, there might be some considerable changes in my rankings.

      One thing I find sad, is a growing prevalence to rank horses dominant in sprints & miles who retire at three or four, above those who were successful at a wide range of distances, carrying huge handicap weights in addition to beating their contemporaries at weight-for-age & racing until six or seven.

      For the time being, I can satisfy myself that I among Justin, Andrew & myself, ranked Peter Pan highest!

    • Editor

      May 20th 2013 @ 4:05pm
      Tristan Rayner said | May 20th 2013 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

      Thanks again to Jessica for this. I don’t mind a good fight for the top position!

      It’s wonderful there remains a number of images of old horses, including Peter Pan when I went looking for images today.

      Interesting notes on Carbine and Phar Lap too – and I’m not surprised The Roar’s historian, Sheek, is chipping in! 😉

    • May 21st 2013 @ 12:27pm
      Jessica Owers said | May 21st 2013 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

      Hey boys!

      This is always a fun subject, and everyone’s ‘best of’ is different. What surprised me most was that all of you put Carbine on top. But Sheek… I agree with you completely. Unlike the old days, contemporary horses are so afraid of defeat. They skip handicaps, competitive contests. The All-Aged was a great example this year. In many years we will look back at this era and wonder how the hell Black Caviar was going around at the same time as More Joyous, yet they never met.

      • May 21st 2013 @ 3:42pm
        ausi said | May 21st 2013 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

        Spot on Jessica – BC well managed – but did not compete.
        Bernborough is another that you experts have too far down – have another look at him – “Thats racing” video has enough of Bernborough’s races for you to think – WOW.

    • May 21st 2013 @ 6:55pm
      Will Lowes said | May 21st 2013 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

      Guys —

      Glad you are attempting the impossible! Good luck!

      It’s all academic, as I have found in a project I am doing for the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. 100 horses from 1860-1950 are being profiled from contemporary sources which have revealed some startling, long forgotten heroes. This project is called Champions Past, and does not rely on memories of trainers, jockeys and owners, which become clouded and confused through the mists of time. All information is from eyewitness, contemporary accounts.

      Does anyone know about Commotion, who came back from a hammer attack on his legs to greater glory? And there’s Le Grand (bought by Carbine’s owner) but who apparently fractured his spine and died young . Others are First King, Chester, Trident (beaten only once in elite company in 12 starts as a 3-year-old), Navigator, the magnificent Abercorn, who — if memory serves — beat Carbine more times than Carbine beat him, the only horse to do so. The list goes on and on. There’s the wonderful, willful Marvel — perhaps Australia’s great miler — and his eccentric owner whose unusual race planning left Marvel with a lesser record than he deserved.

      I think someone rated Malua, whose record also would have been so much better had his owner not insisted on riding him from time to time at registered race meetings and against professional jockeys…

      Has anyone yet mentioned Wakeful?

      It is sad that so many of these great horses have been lost in the mists of time. The Champions Past project — three volumes — is about 80 percent done. Each profile is a long, detailed account from (ideally) birth to death, the owners, trainers, jockeys and of course, the horses, on the race track and in the breeding barn. A number of the profiles are actually book length.

      My favourite of the 80 horses profiled thus far, however, has got to be mad Manfred. There are some wonderful contemporary comments about Manfred, who managed to cause as much grief as gladness to his genial owner Ben Chaffey.

      But I rate Shannon’s 1946 Epsom half-head defeat above Manfred’s 1925 AJC Derby victory. And I cannot think of any horse of the last 30 years who could have matched either of these amazing feats.

      Regards —

      Will Lowes

    • Roar Guru

      May 21st 2013 @ 11:12pm
      sheek said | May 21st 2013 @ 11:12pm | ! Report

      Hi Will,

      Great stuff. I have said to the other guys trying to decide between just 20 horses is the difference perhaps between three strands of hair. Virtually nothing in it!

      Yes, we all mentioned Wakeful. I think from our composite selections, she ranked fifth, which ought to please you.

      Our first seven, composite scores, were: 1. Carbine, 2. Tulloch, 3. Phar Lap, 4. Kingston Town, 5. Wakeful, 6.Bernborough, 7. Black Caviar.

      Carbine was first for all three of us. I think Black Caviar ranks too highly, personally.

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