Lap racehorse and legend
chestnut gelding, Phar Lap was foaled on 4 October 1926 in Seadown
near Timaru in the South Island of New Zealand.
was sired by Night Raid from Entreaty by Winkie. He was by the same
sire as the Melbourne Cup winner Nightmarch. Sydney trainer Harry
Telford persuaded American businessman David J. Davis to buy the colt
at auction, based on his pedigree.
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.
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.
placate Davis, he agreed to train the horse for nothing, in exchange
for a two-thirds share of any winnings. Telford leased the horse for
three years and was eventually sold joint ownership by Davis. 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 (61.5 kg). 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. David and leased to Telford.
After their three year lease agreement ended, Telford had enough money
to become joint owner of the horse.
David then had Phar Lap shipped to America in order to race. Telford
did not agree with this decision and refused to go, so David sent
strapper Tom Woodcock.
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 purse ever raced for in North America. Phar Lap won in
track-record time while carrying 129 pounds (58.5 kg) and was ridden
by Billy Elliot for his seventh win from seven rides. From there,
the horse was sent to a private ranch near Menlo Park, California,
while his owner negotiated with racetrack officials for special race
Early on 5 April 1932, the horse's strapper for the North American
visit, Tommy Woodcock, found him in severe pain and having a high
temperature. Within a few hours, Phar Lap hemorrhaged to death.
Much speculation ensued, and when a necropsy revealed that the horse's
stomach and intestines were inflamed, many believed 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
2000, equine specialists studying the two necropsies concluded that
Phar Lap probably died of duodenitis-proximal jejunitis, an acute
bacterial gastroenteritis. 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.
real evidence of involvement by a criminal element exists, however.
Sydney veterinarian Dr 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." 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 in 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".
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.
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.
Phar Lap's heart was remarkable for its size, weighing 6.2 kg, compared
with a normal horse's heart at 3.2 kg. Now held at the National Museum
of Australia in Canberra, it is the object visitors most often request
||William The Third
Race Wins For Phar Lap
WON 27-Apr-29 Rosehill
Maiden Juvenile 6f
WON 21-Sep-29 Rosehill Rosehill
WON 5-Oct-29 Randwick
WON 5-Oct-29 Randwick Craven
WON 2-Nov-29 Flemington Victoria
WON 1-Mar-30 Flemington St.
Leger Stakes 14f
WON 6-Mar-30 Flemington Governor’s
WON 8-Mar-30 Flemington King’s
WON 12-Apr-30 Warwick Farm Chipping
WON 19-Apr-30 Randwick
St Leger Stakes 14f
WON 23-Apr-30 Randwick
Cumberland Stakes 14f
WON 26-Apr-30 Randwick
WON 10-May-30 Morphettville
Elders Stakes 9f
WON 17-May-30 Morphettville
King’s Cup 12f
WON 13-Sep-30 Randwick Chelmsford
WON 20-Sep-30 Rosehill Rosehill
WON 4-Oct-30 Randwick Spring
WON 8-Oct-30 Randwick Craven
WON 11-Oct-30 Randwick Randwick
WON 25-Oct-30 Moonee Valley
W S Cox Plate 9.5f
WON 1-Nov-30 Flemington Melbourne
WON 4-Nov-30 Flemington Melbourne
WON 6-Nov-30 Flemington Linlithgow
WON 11-Nov-30 Flemington C
B Fisher Plate 12f
WON 14-Feb-31 Caulfield St.
George Stakes 9f
WON 21-Feb-31 Caulfield Futurity
WON 28-Feb-31 Flemington
Essendon Stakes 10f
WON 4-Mar-31 Flemington
WON 25-Aug-31 Williamstown
WON 5-Sep-31 Caulfield Memsie
WON 19-Sep-31 Rosehill
WON 3-Oct-31 Randwick Spring
WON 7-Oct-31 Randwick Craven
WON 10-Oct-31 Randwick Randwick
WON 24-Oct-31 Moonee Valley W
S Cox Plate 9.5f
WON 31-Oct-31 Flemington Melbourne
WON 20-Mar-32 Agua Caliente
Agua Caliente Hcp 10f
Breeder : Alick Roberts,
Seadown near Timaru, South Island, NZ
Trainer : Harry Telford
Strapper and attendant trainer in USA : Tommy Woodcock
Owner : Harry Telford and David Davis
Cost : 160 guineas (NZ sales)
Jockeys (wins) : Jim Pike (27) Billy Elliott (7) J Baker (1) J Munro
(1) W Duncan (1)
racing systems and research