The story of Peter Pan began with one horse. Phar Lap. In 1932, the memory of the Red Terror was glutted to Australia’s sides in the aftermath of his violent death. The nation exclaimed there would never be another like him, said it would be a lifetime before any horse would approach his brilliance. But Australia was wrong. Not six months after Phar Lap died, along came the flashy, irascible young Peter Pan.

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He was born on 17 October 1929, only days before the stock markets collapsed and drove the world into deep recession. Peter Pan was the son of imported English stallion Pantheon, out of Alwina, a mare bred on stout colonial staying lines tracing to Yattendon. From birth, he was a washy, light chestnut in colour with a blond mane and tail. Aloof and famously temperamental, Peter Pan was described as a 'brainy sort of horse', the type that processed his surroundings, let everyone know what mood he was in.

Trained by Randwick doyen Frank McGrath for wealthy pastoralist Rodney Rouse Dangar, the colt had only one start late in his two-year-old year. He returned to racing in the spring of 1932, and by November of that astonishing season he had won the Hill Stakes, AJC Derby, Melbourne (now Mackinnon) Stakes, and Melbourne Cup. His sensational victory in the Cup, when he struck the running rail at the five pole, was the then fastest time ever clocked in the race by a three-year-old. Peter Pan was only two weeks out of his two-year-old year.
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The chestnut finished his three-year-old season with nine victories from 11 starts, and Australia was abuzz with its new superstar. And Peter Pan continued on his merry way. Sidelined for 11 months due to injury, he returned as a five year old with victories in 7 furlong and mile events before a scintillating, unheralded second triumph in the Melbourne Cup under top weight of 9.11 from the extreme outside barrier. By the end of that year, his veteran pilot Jim Pike, who was famous for his partnership with Phar Lap, declared Peter Pan 'something of a miracle in the history of horse racing'.

In the autumn of 1935, after his second Melbourne Cup spring, the champion resumed racing with wins in all five of his Sydney starts between March and May. Among these was his slashing of the Australasian mile record, clocking the All-Aged Plate in 1.35.5. Returning to spring racing for a tilt at his third Melbourne Cup, Peter Pan won the Hill Stakes, Spring Stakes and Craven Plate in succession, looking like an odds-on certainty to beat at Flemington. But unexplained injury overcame the chestnut in the weeks leading up to the effort… too much racing, or too much training, it was never explained. The six-year-old stallion carried a staggering 10.6 in the big event, fading to the back of the field by the finish.

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Peter Pan appeared three more times on the racetrack, in the following autumn at Randwick where he was twice placed. The old brilliance was gone, and he was defeated by horses that were vastly inferior to him only six months before. Rodney Dangar retired him to stud duties at Baroona, just outside Singleton in the Hunter region where Peter Pan had been born. The horse remained there until 1941, when he broke a small bone in his knee and incurred septicaemia. Contrary to the upheld myth that Peter Pan died from a broken leg, on 5 May 1941 he died from blood poisoning.

Unlike Phar Lap's legend, Peter Pan's legend faded until the memory of him lived on only in those that had seen him, or inherited stories from their parents or grandparents. Unlike Phar Lap, Peter Pan had raced until he expired, allowing defeat to soil his image. He had not died in sensational, unexplained circumstances, or in a foreign land.
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Forever, Phar Lap's imposing legacy would cloud him. It did not matter how comparable he was to the Red Terror, he was never destined to provoke a lasting legacy because there isn't usually room for two legends in the same era. 'Peter Pan: The Forgotten Story Of Phar Lap's Successor' will show you that Peter Pan deserves his spotlight for he was at least as good as Phar Lap. At times in his career, he was better.


Picture credits: Michelle Hills and Christine Burne (top image); Timothy Ritchie (second image).