Those four titans of the Australian turf, Chatham, Hall Mark, Peter Pan and Rogilla, made the 1934-35 season one to remember. In perhaps what could be described as the final chapter of racing’s golden era, each of the stars met with success while providing each of the others with their strongest opposition. By season’s end, one would stand-alone.
Rogilla came back to racing first and in Les Haigh’s usual pattern of starting off his stable star in a sprint handicap, the now seven year-old won a midweek Flying Hcp over 6f at Sydney’s old Rosebery course. Ten days later Rogilla lined up in the Warwick Stakes, which saw Chatham resume from his winter spell, with eight other opponents in the mix. Rogilla was often slowly away from the tapes and that was the case again in the Warwick Stakes, as Chatham controlled the race from the front as he had done on so many occasions to hold out the challenge of the highly rated NZ four year-old Nightly, to win well. Behind the placegetters, no one missed Rogilla’s finishing burst.
Rogilla and Chatham then took separate paths for the time being, with the former coming from behind to defeat the resuming Peter Pan in the Chelmsford Stakes two weeks later as the 8/11 favourite. Chatham took out the Hill Stakes in typical style the following Saturday and was then entered for the Sir Herbert Maitland Stakes at the old pony course, Victoria Park, over 7f a few days later. Although this weight-for-age race was not all that valuable it served as an important lead-up to the AJC Spring Carnival, particularly for those heading to the Epsom and as such the field of nine was long on quality.
One entrant not heading to the Randwick feature was Peter Pan and it was something of a surprise to see him brought back to a sprint distance over which he had never competed. His only other start at less than a mile was on debut as a two year-old. And so it was that Chatham was a long odds-on chance but Peter Pan met with support to start on the second line at 7/1.
The Sir Herbert Maitland Stakes may not have been the most valuable race of the season but it certainly was one of the races of the season. As Chatham high-balled in the lead Peter Pan settled some way off the pace as expected but as the challengers to the favourite dropped off one by one only Peter Pan emerged as a threat in the final furlong and not even Chatham could withstand his finishing burst this time. The race may have been an upset but it was undeniably an unforgettable thriller for the midweek crowd.
Chatham’s dominance over the Randwick mile came to an end in the Epsom when unplaced under 10st 9lbs while Peter Pan and Rogilla met again in the Spring Stakes over the Derby course one race later. As expected and as reflected in the betting, the pair had too much class for their rivals with Rogilla coming from behind to edge out the favourite by a head in a bustling finish between the two great horses and their two great riders, Munro and Pike.
Rogilla had now beaten Peter Pan at their past four meetings (as well as winning those races) and led overall by 6-4 but he would never again weigh-in ahead of the horse two years his younger. The pair dominated the market for their next clash a few days later in the Craven Plate but the 8/1 chance Chatham dominated the race, leading over the last mile and skipping away on top of the rise to safely hold Peter Pan’s late challenge while Rogilla was third, 1.5 lengths further back. The victory gave Chatham his third consecutive Craven Plate, equalling Phar Lap’s record from 1929-31. As an older horse, Chatham was often at his most dangerous when bouncing back from defeat.
The three Sydney stars now moved camp to Melbourne where over the same six week period the local champ Hall Mark had come back to racing in sparkling form with wins in the Underwood Stakes and October Stakes. While Peter Pan was held back, the others met in the Caulfield Stakes and it was Hall Mark who gave Victorians something to crow about when a narrow winner over Chatham with Rogilla three lengths away.
The Cox Plate had been on Peter Pan’s radar but the horse was not among the final field as bookmakers and punters reviewed the Caulfield result, settling on Chatham at 2/1, Hall Mark at 9/4 and Rogilla at 3/1 in the field of six. In the Caulfield Stakes, Rogilla had kept Chatham in his sights throughout leaving Hall Mark with the sitting shot. But at the Valley, Rogilla, as he did often, missed the start badly and Chatham’s superior tactical speed saw him cruise through the first half of the race before going for broke at the far turn. Hall Mark gave chase but could not match the favourite’s brilliance and Chatham bolted in from Hall Mark with Rogilla making late ground for the minor placing.
On Derby Day, the trio faced off yet again in the Melbourne Stakes but Peter Pan was there too, having his first Victorian start since winning the 1932 Melbourne Cup. Ridden for the first time by Darby Munro, with Pike under suspension following the Spring Stakes, Peter Pan was the well supported favourite and the glamour chestnut had a comfortable win over Hall Mark and the New Zealander Nightly, which finished just ahead of Chatham with Rogilla further back.
For Chatham, there was no bouncing back from this defeat. The Windbag stallion pulled up lame in one shoulder and was withdrawn from his Cup Week engagements. When back in training in the autumn, the complaint continued to trouble the horse and, in March, Chatham was officially retired. From 45 starts, he had won 24 times (including a dead-heat) with eight placings. His place among Australia’s greatest milers is without question but his form up to 10f should also be recognised. Three Craven Plates and two Cox Plates demand it.
Only Archer had won two Melbourne Cups to that time and the naysayers were out in force about Peter Pan’s chances in 1934 despite a return to his best form in the Melbourne Stakes. Not only did he have top weight of 9st 10lbs, but Peter Pan was drawn to start from the outside of the field on a track waterlogged following a serious drenching. On Cup Day, Peter Pan drifted in the market to start at 14/1, with Nightly and fellow NZ raider Sir Simper joint favourites at 9/2. They were the first two beaten.
But win he did in the most emphatic fashion. The weight, the draw, the track and the opposition proved no hindrance as Munro kept Peter Pan on the outside but always in his rhythm, joining the leaders five-wide on the turn and then racing away as the field entered the straight. The others could make no impression and the champion had a second Melbourne Cup in his keeping a long way from home. Peter Pan won by three lengths from Sarcherie while conceding that fine staying mare 36lbs in one of the great performances of not just the Cup, but in Australian Turf annals.
The Melbourne Cup was presented to Peter Pan’s owner by the Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V, and on the following Saturday the VRC staged the Duke of Gloucester Cup in his honour as a Quality Handicap over 14f. Peter Pan backed up and maintained his unbeaten Flemington record when defeating Broad Arrow by a half-length, but the great horse was all out to do so. The Duke continued his Australian tour in Sydney and the AJC reciprocated by running the Duke of Gloucester Plate over 12f less than a fortnight after Flemington. For the only time that season, and for only the sixth time in his career to that stage, Peter Pan was unplaced, the race going to his old classic rival, Oro.
In the autumn, Peter Pan left them all in his wake and for our purposes; the Bluebloods HOTY for 1934-35 becomes as one-sided as his Melbourne Cup victory that season. In a brilliant, unbeaten campaign, Peter Pan won the Randwick Stakes over a mile first-up, then the Rawson Stakes at his third attempt before adding the Autumn Plate on the first day of the AJC Carnival.
Meanwhile Rogilla had not won in six starts that autumn before getting the better of Hall Mark in the Chipping Norton Stakes, reversing the result of the King’s Plate at Flemington in early March. The old horse then tackled Peter Pan in the autumn Plate and once again the pair put on a show for the ages, with the long odds-on favourite Peter Pan prevailing narrowly over his gallant, but ageing, adversary.
The long distance weight-for-age options during the week seemed the obvious program for Peter Pan but Frank McGrath surprised most when choosing to bring his star back to the mile of the All-Aged Plate the following Wednesday, taking on Hall Mark and two others. In addition to the King’s Plate, Hall Mark had scored a magnificent win in the Doncaster Hcp with 9st 8lbs on Easter Saturday, setting the stage for another fascinating contest between the two Melbourne Cup winners, albeit over half the distance of that race.
But it was all one-way traffic as Peter Pan broke Winooka’s course record in winning by three lengths before rounding out his triumphant five year-old season with a sublime five length victory in the Jubilee Cup, another valuable quality handicap, over Randwick’s Derby course shortly after.
In the 1934-35 racing year, Peter Pan’s record stood at 13-9-3-0, with earning topping £15,500, surpassing his classic year in that respect. There can be no denying his greatness, the strength of his opponents, nor his claims to the Bluebloods HOTY.