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Phar Lap racehorse and legend

Phar Lap

A chestnut gelding, Phar Lap was foaled on 4 October 1926 in Seadown near Timaru in the South Island of New Zealand.

He 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.

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. 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 appearances.

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 formally identified.

betting ticketIn 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.

No 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 to see.




Night Raid Radium Bend Or
Sentiment Spearmint
Entreaty Winkie William The Third
Prayer Wheel Pilgrim's Progress
Catherine Wheel







Phar Lap






Career Race Wins For Phar Lap

WON    27-Apr-29   Rosehill         Maiden Juvenile 6f
WON    21-Sep-29  Rosehill         Rosehill Guineas 9f
WON    5-Oct-29    Randwick         AJC Derby 12f
WON    5-Oct-29    Randwick         Craven Plate 10f
WON    2-Nov-29    Flemington         Victoria Derby 12f
WON    1-Mar-30    Flemington         St. Leger Stakes 14f
WON    6-Mar-30    Flemington         Governor’s Plate 12f
WON    8-Mar-30    Flemington         King’s Plate 2m
WON    12-Apr-30   Warwick Farm    Chipping Norton 10f
WON    19-Apr-30   Randwick          St Leger Stakes 14f
WON    23-Apr-30   Randwick          Cumberland Stakes 14f
WON    26-Apr-30   Randwick          AJC Plate 18f
WON    10-May-30  Morphettville      Elders Stakes 9f
WON    17-May-30  Morphettville      King’s Cup 12f
WON    13-Sep-30  Randwick         Chelmsford Stakes 9f
WON    20-Sep-30  Rosehill           Rosehill Stakes 1m
WON    4-Oct-30    Randwick           Spring Stakes 12f
WON    8-Oct-30    Randwick           Craven Plate 10f
WON    11-Oct-30  Randwick           Randwick Plate 2m
WON    25-Oct-30  Moonee Valley    W S Cox Plate 9.5f
WON    1-Nov-30    Flemington         Melbourne Stakes 10f
WON    4-Nov-30    Flemington         Melbourne Cup 2m
WON    6-Nov-30    Flemington         Linlithgow Stakes 1m
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 Stakes 7f
WON    28-Feb-31   Flemington       Essendon Stakes 10f
WON    4-Mar-31     Flemington         King’s Plate 14f
WON    25-Aug-31   Williamstown     Underwood Stakes 1m
WON    5-Sep-31    Caulfield             Memsie Stakes 9f
WON    19-Sep-31  Rosehill              Hill Stakes 1m
WON    3-Oct-31    Randwick             Spring Stakes 12f
WON    7-Oct-31    Randwick            Craven Plate 10f
WON    10-Oct-31   Randwick           Randwick Plate 2m
WON    24-Oct-31   Moonee Valley   W S Cox Plate 9.5f
WON    31-Oct-31   Flemington         Melbourne Stakes 10f
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)

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