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Phar Lap (1926–1932)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Phar Lap, 1932

Phar Lap, 1932

Museum Victoria

The news of Phar Lap's unexpected death comes as a great shock, not only to the race-going public, but to all Australians. From a mediocre beginning, Phar Lap gradually forced his way into turf records throughout the world, and but for his untimely end may have been the greatest stake-earner in the world. His many feats on Australian race-courses commanded the interest of thousands of people who had not hitherto given more than passing attention to the important events. In addition, he was the subject of sensational happenings that rarely come the way even of a champion galloper. His superiority was so marked that following anonymous threats to injure the horse, elaborate precautions for his safety were deemed necessary immediately before any big meeting at which he was engaged.

A desperate attempt was made in November 1930, to injure Phar Lap so as to prevent his starting in the Melbourne Cup, for which he was an exceptionally short-priced favourite. When he was leaving the Caulfield racecourse after early morning exercise preparatory to his fulfilling an engagement on the opening day of the V.R.C. spring meeting, shots were fired at him, but he escaped injury. Later, he achieved further fame by winning the historic two miles race at his second attempt, starting at the shortest price on record for the event and carrying a tremendous weight for a four-year-old gelding. Subsequent to the attempt on his life, Phar Lap was sent secretly several miles out of Melbourne, where he remained under guard until taken to Flemington for the Cup. On the course, also when making his way to the starting barrier, he had a strong police escort.

Every precaution was also taken last year to see that he reached the post uninjured for the Melbourne Cup, the question of his taking his place in the field not being decided on definitely until the morning of the race.

Bred by the late Mr. A. F. Roberts, of Ataahua, Kaituna (N.Z.), in 1926, Phar Lap was a rising six-year-old. He was by the imported horse Night Raid from the Winkie (imp.) mare Entreaty, a line of blood that was greatly favoured by Telford, who was keen on securing Phar Lap, and eventually persuaded Mr. D. J. Davis to purchase him. Telford raced the horse on lease until early last year, and then became part-owner, Phar Lap always being under his care in Australia.

The horse did not have his first race in public until February, 1929, when he was unplaced in a Nursery Handicap at Rosehill. That season he had five starts altogether, winning a six furlongs Maiden Juvenile Handicap at Rosehill in April. His earnings then amounted to only £182. It was in the following season that Phar Lap first began to show his true worth, for after three unplaced outings he finished a close fourth in the Warwick Stakes in August. He was then second in Tattersall's Chelmsford Stakes, and his display was of such promise that a prominent patron of A.R.C. meetings was reported to have offered a big amount for him. Phar Lap, however, was not for sale, and the judgment of his lessee-trainer was vindicated by Phar Lap winning in succession the Rosehill Guineas, A.J.C. Derby, Craven Plate, and the Victoria Derby. His third in the Melbourne Cup that year has since been the subject of many interesting discussions, which will, no doubt, be continued each time his great deeds are recalled.

After a short respite Phar Lap renewed acquaintance with the race-track, and following his third in the St. George Stakes at Caulfield in February, 1930, he began a series of victories to May, which included the V.R.C, and A.J.C. St. Legers, the V.R.C. Governor's Plate, King's Plate, Warwick Farm Chipping Norton Stakes, A.J.C. Cumberland Stakes, A.J.C. Plate, and the S.A.J.C. Elder Stakes, and the King's Cup at Adelaide. In August, 1930, he was beaten by Amounis, another great galloper, in the Warwick Stakes, but he did not suffer defeat in his next 14 starts, the races being the Chelmsford Stakes, Rosehill Hill Stakes, A.J.C. Spring Stakes, Craven Plate, Randwick Plate, Moonee Valley W.S. Cox Plate, V.R.C. Melbourne Stakes, Melbourne Cup, Linlithgow Stakes, C. B. Fisher Plate, V.A.T.C. St. George Stakes, Futurity Stakes, and the V.R.C. Essendon Stakes, and the King's Plate.

His defeat by Waterline in the C. M. Lloyd Stakes three days later caused a sensation, but it was subsequently reported that Phar Lap had suffered from an internal complaint, consequently was not capable of giving of his best.

Many people then expressed the opinion that Phar Lap, notwithstanding that conditions of races had been altered to his detriment, was practically a spent force, but, like the champion he was, he came out five months later to begin a further series of victories in weight-for-age races. His last appearance in a handicap in Australia was in the last Melbourne Cup, in which he had to carry 10st 10lb, but could only finish eighth.

His convincing victory in the Agua Caliente Handicap brought his earnings to £66,329, making him the third greatest stake-winner in the history of thoroughbred racing. As a three-year-old he won 13 races for £26,794, as a four-year-old 14 races for £24,666, and as a five-year-old nine races for £14,687.

By many racegoers he was regarded as the greatest Australasian horse of all time, and, after his victory at Mexico last month, he ranked next to the American horses Sun Beau and Gallant Fox as the greatest stake-earner in the world's turf history.

His unfortunate death in America has robbed him of the opportunity of attaining first place among stake-earners, but there is little doubt that he would have reached that goal had he lived another season. He was to have raced at Tanforan on April 30, in a special handicap worth £5000, and then was to proceed to the north-eastern States of America to throw down the gage of battle to Twenty Grand, Mate, Top Flight, and the other champions of the American equine world.

Colic, or gripes, is met with in two forms – spasmodic and flatulent, wrote Mr. A. H. Archer, M.R.C.V.S. Spasmodic colic, a true gripes, is a spasmodic contraction of the muscular coats of the intestines, and is often a forerunner of inflammation. The cause is brought about by improper food, large draughts of cold or very hard water, especially when the animal's system is exhausted from hard work. Another cause would be change of diet, especially from a dry diet of corn or hay to a bulky, succulent diet. The presence of worms in the intestines is often the cause of colic, and colic pains are often associated with disease of other organs, such as the liver or kidneys.

The pain comes on suddenly, the horse paws with his fore-feet, kicks at his belly, looks round with an anxious, uneasy expression towards his flanks, lies down, rolls on his back, or lies stretched out on his side, with the knee frequently bent. Almost suddenly the sufferer appears to be free from pain for a time, only, however, to go through the same set of symptoms as soon as this period of comparative freedom from pain terminates, which is usually a matter of a few minutes only.

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Citation details

'Phar Lap (1926–1932)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Phar Lap, 1932

Phar Lap, 1932

Museum Victoria

Life Summary [details]


4 October, 1926
Timaru, Canterbury, New Zealand


5 April, 1932 (aged 5)
Atherton, California, United States of America

Cause of Death


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