The 1932 Melbourne Cup was truly an occasion to remember. It was won in extraordinary circumstances by a three year old stallion called Peter Pan. The horse was drop-dead gorgeous. His light chestnut body contrasted with a blonde mane and tail. He was owned by Mr Rodney Dangar, and foaled at Dangar’s prestigious Baroona stud, near Singleton in New South Wales.
But back to the Flemington racetrack on the first Tuesday in November, 1932….the horse was lucky to even complete the two mile event.
His jockey, Billy Duncan, explained what happened; ‘I had a beautiful run from the barrier to about five furlongs from home. I got on the rail after going about a furlong and a half. I never left them until the five furlong post. A horse in front of me shifted out from the rails and when I went up to take his position, the other horse came back and knocked me. It was only a fluke that my horse stood up.’
The incredible thing was that Peter Pan was saved when his stable mate, Dennis Boy, came up behind and accidentally bumped him upright! The mighty Pan rested briefly, then took off after the pack, and won the race by a nose. It was said that when he got back to the winner’s circle his nose was stained green from its close encounter with the turf!
The next year, Peter Pan fell ill from a serious virus. He went into temporary retirement and did not compete in 1933. However, he lined up again for the 1934 Melbourne Cup. He was carrying a heavy weight of 62.5kgs, on a track so heavy it was described as ‘a bog’. For these reasons he started at the long odds of 14/1. Nevertheless, he beat a strong field by a remarkable three lengths to become what at that time was only the second dual winner of the famous race. Who was the first? It was Archer, who won the first two Cups in 1861 and 1862.
Following the second win there was a great debate about which was the better horse, Peter Pan or the magnificent Pharlap. Opinion was divided, but as they say, comparisons are odious. Certainly Pharlap has a special place in Australian hearts. The pair never ran in the same race, but both competed during the years of the Great Depression, raising the morale of the entire country.
In 1935 Peter Pan suffered a mystery ailment. Trainer Frank McGrath personally nursed him back to health. To avoid disappointing the public the horse was entered in the Melbourne Cup for a third time, but failed to run a place and was immediately retired to stud.
Peter Pan died on May 5 1941, due to infection following a broken bone in his leg. He was buried at Baroona. His headstone is inscribed, most appropriately; ‘A VERY GALLANT HORSE’.
In 1978 he was commemorated on a postage stamp, where his good looks really shone out. But Pharlap had a stamp too, and edged out poor Peter by five cents. Life is so unfair.
If you would like to watch Peter Pan winning the 1934 Melbourne Cup, CLICK HERE.
And by the miracle of modern technology, a virtual reality race was held in 2020 to try and determine the best of the Melbourne Cup winners. I’m afraid Peter Pan did not place. It was the more recent, three times winner Makybe Diva who triumphed, followed by Phar Lap and Carbine.
When I was a child we had a very low tech horse racing game featuring the older horses in the above field, including Peter Pan, Pharlap and Carbine. Oh, the memories!