Cerise and white: the symbol of Western success

8 min read
Just as the Ingham brothers’ cerise silks always stood for quality and a job well done, so it is with the cerise, white cross-belts of Bob and Sandra Peters, a couple who have invested hugely in racing in WA over an extended period, and for whom success is a reward richly deserved. John Berry takes a look at one of Australia's most successful owner/breeders.

It went without saying that when Bart Cummings wrote his outstanding memoirs ‘Bart – my life’ he would insert a few wry reflections on the racing scene and its astonishingly varied cast of characters.

Referring to Ray Borg, a notable identity in Victorian racing circles for a time in the 1960s, Bart wrote, “Like many high flying business people who get involved in racing, he was an institution one minute, and the next he’d fallen off the face of the earth”.

We have all come across numerous Ray Borgs – but for every twenty or so like him, there is the one who devotes his whole life to racing, ending up not merely as a footnote but as part of the history of the sport. Bob Peters, the long-standing dominant owner/breeder of Western Australia who enjoyed yet another red-letter day at Ascot on Saturday, is one such colossus.

“Bob is one of the best breeders in the country and has been for many, many years." Michael Kirwan, Coolmore Australia

Sandra and Bob Peters

From cars to horses

After having had a variety of jobs in the early to mid ‘60s including working for an insurance company and as a boring contractor sinking wells out in the country, Bob Peters decided that if he was to make his way in business he should “get back and do something serious and a job became available at Western Motors, assistant to the general sales manager”.

One thing led to another, with hard work and long hours being the common denominator, and by the time he was in his late 20s Peters was a significant figure in the motor business in Western Australia. In fact, at the age of 30 he felt so secure that he retired to realise a boyhood ambition of becoming a farmer – except that his work ethic over-ruled this bucolic idyll, meaning that this ‘retirement’ only lasted three months.

Things progressed onwards and upwards, so that at one stage he had nine new car franchises, employing over 600 people under 11 sales managers and selling in excess of 10,000 cars a year. Ultimately his core business came to revolve around holding the WA franchises for BMW and Honda.

Just as another burgeoning entrepreneur, Lloyd Williams, was doing in the east, Bob Peters turned his attention towards his passion for the sport of kings once he could afford to do so. The difference was that Williams is a private man who came to concentrate his aim on the Melbourne Cup, honing his strategy around the purchase of horses from the northern hemisphere.

The more gregarious Peters, by contrast, is a natural fit for the communal spirit of racing administration, while he and his wife Sandra chose the arguably more fulfilling road to success as owner/breeders.

Galaxy Star wins the Group 1 Railway Stakes

Dedicated to WA

Having owned horses for a handful of years and ranking already as one of the more significant business identities in Perth, Bob Peters, still aged only 32, was elected to the committee of the Western Australian Turf Club in 1975 when a vacancy became available on the retirement of Alan Scahill, who had been the towering figure in racing administration in the west for decades. (At the time, WATC rules stipulated that committeemen must stand down at the age of 70).

Scahill had chaired several sub-committees (including finance, racetrack and workplace, TAB board, racecourse development fund) and Peters’ colleagues were astute enough to make use of the new recruit’s acumen by putting him straight into these vacant positions despite the fact that he was easily the youngest member of the committee. A lifelong commitment to helping the administration of racing in Western Australia thus began.

What had also started by this time was Bob and Sandra Peters’ fascination with bloodlines. The easy option of snapping up the most obvious and expensive prospects at the yearling sales was not their style, even though they could well afford to do so. They preferred the harder, but ultimately much more satisfying, way of breeding their own.

"Snapping up the most obvious and expensive prospects at the yearling sales was not their style, even though they could well afford to do so." John Berry

The upshot is that now, with more than four decades as owner/breeders behind them, they have bred and raced the winners of every feature race in Western Australia, usually multiple times and nowadays often with families who have been in their hands for several generations.

'The hardest race to win'

Saturday’s meeting at Ascot was a classic example. Its feature the G1 Railway S. is regarded by many as the most competitive race in the west. Certainly, Bob Peters has described it as the hardest to win, notwithstanding that he and Sandra have now won it twice in the last five years, the victory of Elite Belle (Canny Lad) in 2014 being matched on Saturday by Galaxy Star (Redoute’s Choice).

Their previous Railway Stakes winners include one of the best West Australian horses of the current century: Old Comrade (Old Spice), winner of the G1 Railway S. in 2001 and successful later that season in the G1 Australian Cup at Flemington when he led Northerly (Serheed {USA}) home to spear-head a memorable quinella for the trans-Nullarbor raiders.

Galaxy Star’s great win on Saturday was part of a black-type treble for the Peters’ operation, alongside wins for their brilliant filly Arcadia Queen (Pierro) in the G2 West Australian Guineas and Mississippi Delta (High Chaparral {Ire}) in the Tattersall’s Cup.

Galaxy Star is now in line to try to complete a famous double as his obvious next start is Perth’s principal weight-for-age feature, the G1 Magic Millions Kingston Town Classic, named after the greatest horse ever to have raced in WA. The double was first completed by another of the greats to have challenged from the east: Better Loosen Up (Loosen Up {USA}) who won both races in 1989 and then enjoyed a stellar campaign the following season, his triumphs including the G1 W. S. Cox Plate, the G1 Japan Cup and the G1 Australian Cup. The second horse to complete the double was the Peters’ aforementioned Old Comrade.

Galaxy Star Connections

The man behind the race

The Magic Millions Kingston Town Classic is a race rooted deep in Bob Peters’ affections because he was at the heart of its instigation. Negotiating on behalf of the WATC alongside the club’s secretary Harry Bolton, he had discussions early in 1976 with representatives of the Philip Morris Tobacco Company during which he persuaded the firm to put up the colossal sum of $50,000 to sponsor a race. No race suitable for such largesse existed so he created one, an 1800m weight-for-age spectacular (initially known as the Marlboro 50,000) which might attract the best horses in the land.

It immediately achieved its aim with the WA-owned, Vic-trained champion Family Of Man (Lots Of Man {USA}) winning the first and third editions, and the likes of Mighty Kingdom, Sovereign Red, Bounty Hawk, Military Plume, Vo Rogue and Better Loosen Up following suit.

Kingston Town

The race’s finest hour, though, came, in 1982 when the mighty Kingston Town graced the Ascot turf for a victorious curtain-call to conclude his epic career. After several name-changes, largely consequent to the banning of tobacco sponsorship of sporting events, the race was re-named the Kingston Town Classic in honour of ‘The King’ in 2007.

Perhaps the happiest Magic Millions Kingston Town Classic day for Bob and Sandra Peters came in 2015 when their three-year-old filly Perfect Reflection (More Than Ready {USA}) beat their four-year-old mare Delicacy (Al Maher) by a nose, form which is as solid as you can get bearing in mind that Delicacy had previously won numerous features including completing the Oaks / Derby double in both Perth and Adelaide. She would subsequently go on to win both G2 C. B. Cox S. and the G2 Perth Cup.

Honoured by the WATC via the naming of the G3 R. J. Peters S. (as the former WATC S. has been known since 1999) Bob Peters, along with his wife Sandra, ranks as arguably Australia’s second most successful breeder of stakes winners in recent seasons, surpassed only by Darley, whose broodmare band and budget are considerably larger.

As Coolmore Australia’s General Manager Michael Kirwan observed a couple of years ago, “Bob is one of the best breeders in the country and has been for many, many years. He and Sandra have enjoyed a wonderful year and their success is testament to the work they put in in achieving the best results. Many of Bob’s families have been patiently developed over time and he is very conscientious with his matings”.

Just as the Ingham brothers’ cerise silks always stood for quality and a job well done, so it is with the cerise, white cross-belts of Bob and Sandra Peters, a couple who have invested hugely in racing in WA over an extended period, financially, emotionally, intellectually and industriously, and for whom success is a reward richly deserved.