Phar Lap…. | Sunday Observer

Phar Lap….

25 July, 2021

Australians like their racing, and, they absolutely love horse racing. Having being a British colony, they hold hundreds of various horse races each year with the ‘Melbourne Cup’ at Flemington Race Ground branded as the ‘race that stops a nation’.

Some of the world’s greatest champion horses are from Australia, but the most popular of them all is a horse called ‘Phar Lap’ who went on to win 37 races out of his 51 starts including the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

He is considered the greatest sports hero of Australia as young and old all love Phar Lap even though he died decades ago before most race lovers today were born.

Racing hero’s life

The horse and his young strapper Tommy Woodcock had an unusual bond and ‘Phar Lap’ even refused to travel for races without Tommy.

His amazing wins even at the times he missed the start stunned the punters and critics and it even pushed some of his mafia rivals to take shots at ‘Phar Lap’.

After many attempts were made on the racing hero’s life, even police escorts were given to ‘Phar Lap’ and during the time of depression he became the ultimate hero for Australia and New Zealand.

Some say, people even bet their bread money on ‘Phar Lap’ during the depression and he never let them down. When people bet on him, he won every race and that earned them back more money during the depression era.

He later went to win the world’s richest race in Mexico called ‘Agua Caliante’ in 1932. He shocked the world by winning this gruelling race, and was secretly poisoned by his rivals soon after.

Less than two weeks after winning the richest race, the hero died in California and while millions of his fans in Australia and New Zealand shed tears hearing of his untimely death, the American Radio even held a one-minute silence for the amazing horse.

His stuffed hind is now a popular display at the Melbourne Museum and his tragic life was made in to a classic movie ‘Phar Lap’ in 1983.

Mysterious death

While his death became a controversial topic, 75 years after his death, extensive tests done on his hair and skin at FBI Forensic labs at U.S.A proved that Australian horse racing hero actually was poisoned.

In 2006, 2008 and 2011 forensic investigations and research papers released on analysis on his hair and mane revealed large dosages of arsenic being present and although many theories float around on his mysterious and sudden death, poisoning is widely believed even by the researchers.

The most recent hero the Melbourne Cup produced was a mare that proved girls can beat boys in a way that no one could ever imagine.

‘Makybe Diva’ became the first horse to win the Cup three times consecutively and after her 2005 effort she was retired.

I was a fortunate racegoer who watched her amazing victory in 2005 at the Melbourne Flemington Grounds where her name was also written in the sky by an aircraft.

In the old days, elderly punters told me that their families gathered in the same way to see Australia’s greatest hero Phar Lap race as if there was no tomorrow.

Phar Lap’s beginning was not so glorious though, in 1928, a battling trainer named Harry Telford saw a colt at Trentham sales in New Zealand. The horse carried the bloodlines of the champion horse ‘Carbine’, who won many races including the 1890 Melbourne Cup.

Harry Telford believed the horse had potential so he was shipped to Australia to be presented to his new owner American businessman David Davis.

He did not become keen on his acquisition of the chestnut coloured skinny, sickly looking young horse, and thought it would be a waste to spend money on training him.

However, the trainer, Harry Telford talked him in to an agreement of leasing the horse to him so that he would train the horse for free and collect two thirds of winning money in return.

Harsh training

The name ‘Phar Lap’ comes from the Thai meaning, ‘white light from the sky’ and he was also known as Bobby Boy, Big Red and Red Terror among those who loved him and wrote many poems about him. The trainer Telford struck gold when he purchased ‘Par Lap’ but some people criticised him for his harsh training and punishments for Phar Lap.

Later, Tommy Woodcock became very close to the horse as his strapper since the day he met Phar Lap.

Phar Lap became Australia’s best race horse in history and won almost every race he ran. One of the most amazing moments in history was when Phar Lap missed the start by twenty lengths at Caulfield Grounds in 1931 VATC Futurity Stakes. To everyone’s amazement he still galloped to victory even though he was carrying more weight than any other horses and even missed the start.

One of the main features of the Flemington Race Grounds is the bronze statue of Phar Lap raised in 1988 at the main pedestrian entrance.

His heart is larger than a normal horse’s heart, twice the size of a normal race horse to be exact, and that has become a symbol of his courage and now at display at National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

After his tragic death in America, Phar Lap’s owners decided to donate his heart and skeleton to the National Institute of Anatomy in Canberra and to the Dominion Museum in New Zealand, his birth place.

Then, his stuffed hide was brought back to Australia where many people gathered in Sydney to see him when it was taken out from the ship.

Even today, he is the most popular display at the Melbourne Museum as an ultimate sporting hero that died because of glory.