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Phar Lap

Phar Lap
Phar Lap with jockey Jim Pike at Flemington Racecourse c. 1930.
Sire Night Raid (GB)
Grandsire Radium (GB)
Dam Entreaty (NZ)
Damsire Winkie (GB)
Sex Gelding
Foaled 4 October 1926
Country New Zealand
Colour Chestnut
Breeder Alick Roberts
Owner David Davis and Harry Telford
Trainer Harry Telford
Record 51:37–3–2
Earnings £A66,738[1]
Major wins
AJC Derby (1929)
Victoria Derby (1929)
Linlithgow Stakes (1930)
Futurity Stakes (1930)
Melbourne Cup (1930)
Chipping Norton Stakes (1930)
Cox Plate (1930 & 1931)
Melbourne Stakes (1930 & 1931)
Underwood Stakes (1931)
Agua Caliente Handicap (1932)
#22 – Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century
1983 Motion PicturePhar Lap: Heart of a Nation
Australian Racing Hall of Fame
New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame
Last updated on 29 April 2009[2]

Phar Lap (4 October 1926 – 5 April 1932) was a champion Thoroughbred racehorse whose achievements captured the public's imagination during the early years of the Great Depression. Foaled in New Zealand,[3] he was trained and raced in Australia by Harry Telford.[4] Phar Lap dominated Australian racing during a distinguished career, winning a Melbourne Cup, two Cox Plates, an AJC Derby, and 19 other weight for age races.[5][6] He then won the Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico, in track-record time in his final race.[7] After a sudden and mysterious illness, Phar Lap died in 1932. At the time, he was the third highest stakes-winner in the world.

His mounted hide is displayed at the Melbourne Museum, his skeleton at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and his heart is currently stored at the National Museum of Australia storage annexe in Mitchell, Canberra.[1][8]


  • Name 1
  • Early life 2
  • Racing career 3
  • Death 4
  • Cultural impact 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Racing record 7
    • 1928–29 season as a two-year-old 7.1
    • 1929–30 season as a three-year-old 7.2
    • 1930–31 season as a four-year-old 7.3
    • 1931–32 season as a five-year-old 7.4
  • Tabulated pedigree 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • External links 11


The name Phar Lap derives from the common Zhuang and Thai word for lightning: ฟ้าแลบ  , lit. 'sky flash'.[9]

Phar Lap was called the "Wonder Horse", "Red Terror", "Bobby" and "Big Red" (the latter nickname was also given to two of the greatest United States racehorses, Man o' War and Secretariat).[10][11] He was sometimes referred to as "Australia's wonder horse".[12]

According to the Museum of Victoria, Aubrey Ping, a medical student at the University of Sydney, suggested "farlap" as the horse's name. Ping knew the word from his father, a Zhuang-speaking Chinese immigrant. 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.[13]

Early life

A chestnut gelding, Phar Lap was foaled on 4 October 1926 in Seadown[6] near Timaru in the South Island of New Zealand.[4] He was sired by Night Raid from Entreaty by Winkie. He was by the same sire as the Melbourne Cup winner Nightmarch. Phar Lap was a brother to seven other horses, Fortune's Wheel, Nea Lap (won 5 races), Nightguard, All Clear, Friday Night, Te Uira and Raphis, none of which won a principal (stakes) race. He was a half-brother to another four horses, only two of which were able to win any races at all.[14]

Sydney trainer Harry Telford persuaded American businessman David J. Davis to buy the colt at auction, based on his pedigree. Telford's brother Hugh, who lived in New Zealand, was asked to bid up to 190 guineas at the 1928 Trentham Yearling Sales. When the horse was obtained for a mere 160 guineas, he thought it was a great bargain until the colt arrived in Australia. The horse was gangly, his face was covered with warts, and he had an awkward gait. Davis was furious when he saw the colt as well, and refused to pay to train the horse. Telford had not been particularly successful as a trainer, and Davis was one of his few remaining owners. To placate Davis, he agreed to train the horse for nothing, in exchange for a two-thirds share of any winnings.[15] Telford leased the horse for three years and was eventually sold joint ownership by Davis.[15]

Although standing a winning racehorse at stud could be quite lucrative, Telford gelded Phar Lap anyway, hoping the colt would concentrate on racing.

Racing career

Phar Lap finished last in the first race and did not place in his next three races. He won his first race on 27 April 1929, the Maiden Juvenile Handicap at Rosehill, ridden by Jack Baker of Armidale, a 17-year-old apprentice.[16] He didn't race for several months but was then entered in a series of races, in which he moved up in class. Phar Lap took second in the Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick on 14 September 1929 and the racing community started treating him with respect.

As his achievements grew, there were some who tried to halt his progress. Criminals tried to shoot Phar Lap[10][17] on the morning of Saturday 1 November 1930 after he had finished track work. They missed, and later that day he won the Melbourne Stakes, and three days later the Melbourne Cup as odds-on favourite at 8 to 11.[18]

Phar Lap winning the Melbourne Cup Race from Second Wind and Shadow King on 4 November 1930.

In the four years of his racing career, Phar Lap won 37 of 51 races he entered, including the Melbourne Cup, being ridden by Jim Pike, in 1930 with 9 st 12 lb (61.5 kg, or 138 lbs).[19] In that year and 1931, he won 14 races in a row. 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. In the three races that he did not win, he ran second on two occasions, beaten by a short head and a neck, and in the 1931 Melbourne Cup he finished eighth when carrying 10 st 10 lb (68 kg).

Phar Lap at the time was owned by American businessman David J. Davis and leased to Telford. After their three-year lease agreement ended, Telford had enough money to become joint owner of the horse. Davis then had Phar Lap shipped to North America to race. Telford did not agree with this decision and refused to go, so Davis, who along with his wife traveled to Mexico with him, brought Phar Lap's strapper Tommy Woodcock as his new trainer.[15] Phar Lap was shipped by boat to Agua Caliente Racetrack near Tijuana, Mexico, to compete in the Agua Caliente Handicap, which was offering the largest prize money ever offered in North America racing. Phar Lap won in track-record time while carrying 129 pounds (58.5 kg). The horse was ridden by Australian jockey Billy Elliot for his seventh win from seven rides.[20] From there, the horse was sent to a private ranch near Menlo Park, California, while his owner negotiated with racetrack officials for special race appearances.


Early on 5 April 1932, the horse's strapper for the North American visit, Tommy Woodcock, found him in severe pain and with a high temperature. Within a few hours, Phar Lap haemorrhaged to death. An autopsy revealed that the horse's stomach and intestines were inflamed, leading many to believe the horse had been deliberately poisoned. There have been alternative theories, including accidental poisoning from lead insecticide and a stomach condition. It was not until the 1980s that the infection could be formally identified.

In 2000, equine specialists studying the two necropsies concluded that Phar Lap probably died of duodenitis-proximal jejunitis, an acute bacterial gastroenteritis.[21]

Phar Lap's skin was preserved by Louis Paul Jonas and is now exhibited as a taxidermy mount by Melbourne Museum.

However, in 2006 Australian Synchrotron Research scientists said it was almost certain Phar Lap was poisoned with a large single dose of arsenic in the hours before he died, perhaps supporting the theory that Phar Lap was killed on the orders of U.S. gangsters, who feared the Melbourne Cup-winning champion would inflict big losses on their illegal bookmakers.[22][23] No real evidence of involvement by a criminal element exists, however.[24]

Sydney veterinarian Percy Sykes believes poisoning did not cause the death. He said "In those days, arsenic was quite a common tonic, usually given in the form of a solution (Fowler's Solution)", and suggests this was the cause of the high levels. "It was so common that I'd reckon 90 per cent of the horses had arsenic in their system."[25] In December 2007 Phar Lap's mane was tested to find if he was given repeated doses of arsenic which, if found, would point to accidental poisoning.

On 19 June 2008, the Melbourne Museum released the findings of the forensic investigation conducted by Dr. Ivan Kempson, University of South Australia, and Dermot Henry, Natural Science Collections at Museum Victoria. Dr. Kempson took six hairs from Phar Lap's mane and analyzed them at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. These high resolution x-rays detect arsenic in hair samples, showing the specific difference "between arsenic, which had entered the hair cells via the blood and arsenic, which had infused the hair cells by the taxidermy process when he was stuffed and mounted at the museum".[26][27]

Kempson and Henry discovered that in the 30 to 40 hours before Phar Lap's death, the horse ingested a massive dose of arsenic. "We can't speculate where the arsenic came from, but it was easily accessible at the time", Henry said.[28]

However, in October 2011 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article in which a New Zealand physicist and information from Phar Lap's strapper state that the great horse was never given any tonic with arsenic and that he died of an infection.[29] Said Dr. Putt, "Unless we are prepared to say that Tommy Woodcock was a downright liar, which even today, decades after the loveable and respected horseman's death, would ostracise us with the Australian racing public, we must accept him on his word. The ineluctable conclusion we are left with, whether we like it or not, is that Phar Lap's impeccable achievements here and overseas were utterly tonic, stimulant and drug-free." Contradictory to this though is the tonic book of Harry Telford, Phar Lap's owner and trainer, and is on display in Museum Victoria, Melbourne. One recipe for a "general tonic" has a main ingredient of arsenic and has written below it: "A great tonic for all horses".[30] Several theories have been proposed as to how Phar Lap came to consume such a large amount of arsenic. The source is unlikely to ever be determined.

Cultural impact

Phar Lap's heart at the National Museum of Australia. It was formerly held by the Institute of Anatomy in Canberra.

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. The hide and the skeleton were put on exhibition together when Wellington's Te Papa Museum lent the skeleton to the Melbourne Museum in September 2010 as part of celebrations for the 150th running of the 2010 Melbourne Cup.

Phar Lap's heart was remarkable for its size, weighing 6.2 kilograms (14 lb), compared with a normal horse's heart at 3.2 kilograms (7.1 lb). Now held at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, it is the object visitors most often request to see. However, the author and film maker Peter Luck is convinced the heart is a fake. In Luck's 1979 television series This Fabulous Century, the daughter of Dr Walker Neilson, the government veterinarian who performed the first post-mortem on Phar Lap, says her father told her the heart was necessarily cut to pieces during the autopsy, and the heart on display is that of a draughthorse.[31]

Several books and films have featured Phar Lap, including the 1983 film Phar Lap, and the song "Phar Lap—Farewell To You".

Phar Lap was one of five inaugural inductees into both the Australian Racing Hall of Fame and New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame. In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the Top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th century, Phar Lap was ranked No. 22.

The horse is considered to be a national icon in both Australia and New Zealand.[32][33][34] In 1978 he was honoured on a postage stamp issued by Australia Post[35] and features in the Australian citizenship test.[36] A $500,000 life-sized bronze memorial to Phar Lap was unveiled on 25 November 2009 near his birthplace at Timaru.[33]


Phar Lap has been honoured with a life-sized bronze statue at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne.[37]

Phar Lap has a residential street named after him in Bossley Park, Sydney, Australia, and Cupertino, California, However, for the Australia address his name was merged as one word "Pharlap" for the naming of the suburban street.

There is also a Phar Lap Grove in Trentham, Wellington, New Zealand, near the Trentham Racecourse.

Racing record

1928–29 season as a two-year-old

Result Race Date Distance Weight Winner or 2nd Pos'n
RRC Nursery Hcp 23/02/1929 512f 6.11 Exact 1st
Hawkesbury Two Year Old Hcp 02/03/1929 5f 7.3 Sheila 1st
RRC Nursery Hcp 16/03/1929 6f 6.7 My Talisman 1st
AJC Easter Stakes 01/04/1929 7f 7.6 Carradale 1st
Won RRC Maiden Juvenile Hcp 27/04/1929 6f 7.9 Voleuse 2nd

1929–30 season as a three-year-old

Result Race Date Distance Weight Winner or 2nd Pos'n
AJC Denham Court Hcp 03/08/1929 6f 7.2 Killarney 1st
RRC Three Year Old Hcp 17/08/1929 7f 7.13 Firbolg / King Crow 1st
RRC Three & Four Year Old Hcp 24/08/1929 7f 7.6 Ticino 1st
AJC Warwick Stakes (wfa) 31/08/1929 8f 7.6 Limerick 1st
2nd Tatts Chelmsford Stakes (wfa) 14/09/1929 9f 7.6 Mollison 1st
Won RRC Rosehill Guineas 21/09/1929 9f 8.5 Lorason 2nd
Won AJC Derby 05/10/1929 12f 8.10 Carradale 2nd
Won AJC Craven Plate (wfa) 09/10/1929 10f 7.8 Mollison 2nd
Won VRC Derby 02/11/1929 12f 8.10 Carradale 2nd
3rd VRC Melbourne Cup 05/11/1929 2 m 7.6 Nightmarch 1st
3rd VATC St George Stakes (wfa) 15/02/1930 9f 8.10 Amounis 1st
Won VRC St Leger Stakes 01/03/1930 14f 8.10 Sir Ribble 2nd
Won VRC Governor's Plate (wfa) 06/03/1930 12f 7.13 Lineage 2nd
Won VRC King's Plate (wfa) 08/03/1930 2 m 7.11 Second Wind 2nd
Won AJC Chipping Norton Stakes (wfa) 12/04/1930 10f 8.10 Amounis 2nd
Won AJC St Leger 19/04/1930 14f 8.10 Sir Ribble 2nd
Won AJC Cumberland Stakes (wfa) 23/04/1930 14f 8.1 Donald 2nd
Won AJC Plate (wfa) 26/04/1930 214 m 7.13 Nightmarch 2nd
Won SAJC Elder Stakes (wfa) 10/05/1930 9f 8.4 Fruition 2nd
Won SAJC King's Cup 17/05/1930 12f 9.5 Nadean 2nd

1930–31 season as a four-year-old

Result Race Date Distance Weight Winner or 2nd Pos'n
2nd AJC Warwick Stakes (wfa) 30/08/1930 8f 8.11 Amounis 1st
Won Tatts Chelmsford Stakes (wfa) 13/09/1930 9f 9.4 Nightmarch 2nd
Won RRC Hill Stakes (wfa) 20/09/1930 8f 9.4 Nightmarch 2nd
Won AJC Spring Stakes (wfa) 04/10/1930 12f 8.11 Nightmarch 2nd
Won AJC Craven Plate (wfa) 08/10/1930 10f 8.11 Nightmarch 2nd
Won AJC Randwick Plate (wfa) 11/10/1930 2 m 8.11 Donald 2nd
Won MVRC W.S. Cox Plate (wfa) 25/10/1930 912f 8.11 Tregilla 2nd
Won VRC Melbourne Stakes (wfa) 01/11/1930 10f 8.11 Tregilla 2nd
Won VRC Melbourne Cup 04/11/1930 2 m 9.12 Second Wind 2nd
Won VRC Linlithgow Stakes (wfa) 06/11/1930 8f 8.12 Mollison 2nd
Won VRC C.B. Fisher Plate (wfa) 08/11/1930 12f 8.12 Second Wind 2nd
Won VATC St George Stakes (wfa) 14/02/1931 9f 9.7 Induna 2nd
Won VATC Futurity Stakes (wfa) 21/02/1931 7f 10.3 Mystic Peak 2nd
Won VRC Essendon Stakes (wfa) 28/02/1931 10f 8.7 Lampra 2nd
Won VRC King's Plate (wfa) 04/03/1931 12f 9.7 Glare 2nd
2nd VRC C.M. Lloyd Stakes (wfa) 07/03/1931 8f 9.7 Waterline 1st

1931–32 season as a five-year-old

Result Race Date Distance Weight Winner or 2nd Pos'n
Won WRC Underwood Stakes (wfa) 25/08/1931 8f 9.0 Rondalina 2nd
Won VATC Memsie Stakes (wfa) 05/09/1931 9f 9.8 Rondalina 2nd
Won RRC Hill Stakes (wfa) 19/09/1931 8f 9.0 Chide 2nd
Won AJC Spring Stakes (wfa) 03/10/1931 12f 9.2 Chide 2nd
Won AJC Craven Plate (wfa) 07/10/1931 10f 9.1 Pentheus 2nd
Won AJC Randwick Plate (wfa) 10/10/1931 2 m 9.3 Chide 2nd
Won MVRC W.S. Cox Plate (wfa) 24/10/1931 912f 9.4 Chatham 2nd
Won VRC Melbourne Stakes (wfa) 31/10/1931 10f 9.1 Concentrate 2nd
8th VRC Melbourne Cup 03/11/1931 2 m 10.10 White Nose 1st
Won Agua Caliente Hcp 20/03/1932 10f 9.3 Reveille Boy 2nd

Total: 51 starts – 37 wins, 3 seconds, 2 thirds, 9 unplaced

Tabulated pedigree

Pedigree of Phar Lap (NZ) (2-r), chestnut gelding, 1926
Night Raid (GB)
B. 1918
Radium (GB)
B. 1903
Bend Or Doncaster
Rouge Rose
Taia Donovan
Sentiment (GB)
B. 1912
Spearmint Carbine (NZ)
Maid of the Mint
Flair St. Frusquin
Entreaty (NZ)
Blk. 1920
Winkie (GB)
Ch. 1912
William the Third St.Simon
Conjure Juggler
Prayer Wheel (NZ)
B. 1905
Pilgrim's Progress Isonomy
Catherine Wheel Maxim
Miss Kate (F-No.2-r)

See also


  1. ^ a b "Phar Lap". The Australian Racing Museum. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  2. ^ "Pedigree". 30 April 2007. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  3. ^ "The Facts". Museum Victoria. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  4. ^ a b "The Horse". Museum Victoria. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  5. ^ "Phar Lap". Thoroughbred Heritage. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  6. ^ a b "Story of Phar Lap". Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  7. ^ "Phar Lap, Agua Caliente". Museum of Victoria. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  8. ^ Phar Lap's heart at the National Museum of Australia
  9. ^ "Lightning". Phar Lap: Australia's wonder horse. Museum Victoria accessdate=2009-04-24. 
  10. ^ a b "The Phar Lap Story". Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  11. ^ "Phar Lap called Bobby round the stables". Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  12. ^ "Phar Lap". Museum Victoria. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  13. ^ Museum Victoria. "Background to the naming of Phar Lap – Museum of Victoria". Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  14. ^ Pring, Peter; Analysis of Champion Racehorses, The Thoroughbred Press, Sydney, 1977, ISBN 0-908133-00-6
  15. ^ a b c "Phar Lap (1926–1932)". Te Papa. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  16. ^ Phil Purser. "Jack Baker rode himself into Australian racing history". Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  17. ^ "Shot fired at Phar Lap". 3 November 1930. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  18. ^ Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewar. "Collections:Phar Lap". Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  19. ^ "Phar Lap wins the cup". 5 November 1930. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  20. ^ Moriarty, Richard (28 October 2006). "'"Blame 'The Brazilian. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  21. ^ Geoff Armstrong and Peter Thompson (2000). Melbourne Cup 1930. Allen & Unwin.  
  22. ^ "Phar Lap poisoned, scientists say". ABC News Online. 23 October 2006. 
  24. ^ "Catalyst (2008 report on arsenic death of Phar Lap)". ABC News Online. 19 June 2008. 
  25. ^ "Phar Lap arsenic claims premature: expert". ABC News Online. 23 October 2006. 
  26. ^ "Sydney Morning Herald: It's official, Phar Lap was poisoned". 19 June 2008. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  27. ^ Kempson I, Henry D (2010). "Synchrotron Radiation Reveals Arsenic Poisoning and Metabolism in Hair: The Case of Phar Lap". Angew. Chemie – Int. Ed.  
  28. ^ "Yahoo! Sports: Phar Lap died of arsenic poisoning". Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  29. ^ "Phar Lap poisoning theory down the drain". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  30. ^ Tonic Book - Harry Telford, Phar Lap, 1930s
  31. ^ David Dale, "Fakes & Fictions", Sydney Morning Herald, 18 September 1999, Spectrum, p.7s
  32. ^ "Sportsmen and women (... and a horse and a boat).". Australian Government. Australian High Commission – New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  33. ^ a b "Phar Lap's return to Timaru". The Phar Lap Trust. Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  34. ^ "Minister promotes Spring Racing Carnival in New Zealand". From the Minister for Racing, Minister for tourism. Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ "Just how Australian are you?". 5 October 2007. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  37. ^ Photo of the statue of Phar Lap at Flemington Racecourse – National Library of Australia

External links

  • Download the video – Forensic Science proves the cause of Phar Lap's death, June 2008
  • Phar Lap at Museum Victoria, Melbourne Australia
  • Phar Lap at Te Papa, New Zealand
  • Phar Lap's heart at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra
  • National Museum of Australia: Protecting and photographing Phar Lap's heart
  • Phar Lap at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
  • Australian Racing Museum and Hall of Fame
  • Phar Lap Australia's Wonder Horse
  • Digital Photo Collection on Phar Lap
  • Culture Victoria – images and link to the story of Phar Lap at Museum Victoria
  • - Photo album owned by David Davis, owner of Phar Lap
  • Photo's of Phar Laps heart
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