Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Phar Lap

I was watching an old Australian movie last night about a famous Australian racehorse from the 1930's, the horse was called Phar Lap.

The name Phar Lap derives from the shared Zhuang and Thai word for lightning (Thai: ฟ้าแลบ fáa lɛ̂p, lit. 'sky flash'). Aubrey Ping suggested "farlap" as the horse's name. Telford liked the name, but changed the F to PH to create a seven letter word, which was split in two in keeping with the dominant naming pattern of Melbourne Cup winners.

He stood at 17.1 hands, he was sometimes called "Australia's wonder horse", some of his other nicknames were "The Red Terror" and "Big Red".

Tommy Woodcock was Phar Laps full time strapper, he and Phar Lap formed such a close relationship that Phar Lap would take food from no one else, often having to sleep outside Phar Lap's stall. 'Bobby', as Tom nicknamed Phar Lap, always came first. Even when Tommy married, Tom could take no more than four days off.

Sydney trainer Harry Telford was a keen student of thoroughbred bloodlines, he believed he had found a future champion in a colt that was shortly due to sell in New Zealand in 1927.

Telford was in a financial mess. He talked an American businessman living in Sydney, David J. Davis, into buying the horse. Phar Lap was foaled in Timaru, New Zealand, late in the season on 4 October 1926.

Phar Lap was bought for 160 guineas, which Telford thought was a bargin, but when being crated from ship to shore in Sydney Harbour he looked anything but a champion. Warts covered its face and there was an awkwardness.

Problems came when Davis saw his purchase. He was furious and wanted nothing to do with it. Telford and Davis struck a deal, if Telford covered the cost of training the horse, he could keep two-thirds of the winnings-if there were any.

Phar Lap finished last in the first race he entered, and he did not place in his next three races. He won his first race on April 27, 1929, the Maiden Juvenile Handicap at Rosehill, ridden by Jack Baker a 17-year-old apprentice.

They spelled the horse for several months, then entered him in a series of races in which he moved up in class. The horse took second in the Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick on September 14, 1929 and the racing community started treating the horse with respect.

In the four years of his racing career, Phar Lap won 37 of 51 races he entered, including the Melbourne Cup in 1930 with 9st 12lb (61.5kg). From his win as a three-year-old in the VRC St. Leger Stakes until his final race in Mexico, Phar Lap won 32 of 35 races

Phar Lap came around at the time of The Great Depression of the 1930's, in those times there were no cash unemployment benefits. The 'dole' consisted of food rations often given to men who worked on special government projects such as making roads. People knew that to have a bet on him they would win their money back, bookies often would not take bets when Phar Lap raced.

After Phar Lap was almost shot at they decided that Phar Lap should race in America, he was shipped over there with Tommy Woodcock as Phar Lap's trainer.
On 20 March 1932,Phar Lap raced in The Agua Caliente Handicap and won.

After the win at Agua Caliente, Phar Lap was taken back up to San Fransisco to give him a rest and go through the many offers they where recieving for Phar Lap to race.

On Tuesday 5 April 1932, Tommy Woodcock awoke to find Phar Lap was in distress. His efforts to walk the champion failed to calm him down. Over the next few hours his condition only worsened. The vet was called but could do nothing. By then, Phar Lap could no longer stand. Around midday, with his head in Woodcock's arms, Phar Lap died.

There where many who thought that the Americans had poisioned and killed Phar Lap for they where bound to loose alot of money as Phar Lap's trainers could not be bought.

Most of Australia grieved with the death of Phar Lap, letters sent to Harry Telford to say how sorry they where that Phar Lap had died.

Following his death, Phar Lap's heart was donated to the Institute of Anatomy in Canberra and his skeleton to the New Zealand's National Museum in Wellington. After preparations of the hide by a New York City taxidermist, his stuffed body was placed in the Australia Gallery at Melbourne Museum.

A few good sites to go too Phar Lap Muesum Victoria
........................................Phar Lap Wikipedia


Sandra said...

Must be coincidental - The Murloc and I were in the local VideoEzy when a film of this name ("Phar Lap") caught my eye.

Pity I'm not so into racing... I certainly appreciate the spirit of competition though! :>

Lori said...

What a stunning animal. Great story, Ashrt. Sorry to hear of his questionable passing. I hope no one would do that to an animal, but the world is full of some nasty people.