The Greatest Racehorses - Ever

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Phar Lap
AKA Big Red
Night Raid - Entreaty
Foaled 4 October 1926 Chestnut Gelding Deceased 1932
Runs: 51 Wins: 37 Places: 5 Earned: £66,738
Form: 00001 - 00042111133111111111 -
211111111111112 - 11111111181

Races Won
Rosehill Guineas Randwick 1929
AJC Derby Randwick 1929
Craven Plate Randwick 1929
VRC Derby Flemington 1929
VRC St Leger Flemington 1929
AJC St Leger Flemington 1929
Melbourne Cup Flemington 1930
Linlithgow Stakes Flemington 1930
Cox Plate Moonee Valley 1930 & 1931
St George Stakes Caulfield 1931
Futurity Stakes Caulfield 1931
King's Plate Flemington 1931
Agua Caliente Handicap Mexico 1932

Phar Lap (who's name is the Thai word for Lightning) was foaled at Seadown Stud in Timaru, New Zealand & it was here as a rather thin, weak yearling that he was bought by Hugh Telford (brother of Phar Lap's future trainer, Harry) for the small fee of 160 Guineas. Once he had been shipped to Australia, Big Red's quest for legendary status began in earnest. But first he had quite a lot of growing to do - 17.1hands of it to be precise! I personally have owned a warmblood horse 17.2h in height & he was MASSIVE so I have some idea of how formidable Big Red must have looked to his rivals whose heights will have averaged from 15.2 to 16.4h. Of course his extra height meant more bone (basically that means longer legs) a larger heart, lungs, girth... everything that is essential to aid a racehorse in its racing career.

(Below:- Phar Lap as pretty as a picture, looking as shiny as a new pin :D)

A Slow Start
Big Red as he became affectionately known, was gelded not long after his arrival to Australia the theory being it would be a waste of time keeping him entire when he was such a weak animal. What I know about gelding is limited but I do know gelding a colt means he doesn't grow as strong as a stallion.... heaven knows how much stronger Red could have been if he'd been remained entire. Sometimes a little patience can go a long way. Still the fact remains his owners did what they thought was right at the time a decision Im sure they will have regretted several times over the course of Phar Lap's tragically short life.

After a rather lacklustre start to his career he got off the mark in an ordinary 6f h'cap on his final start as a 2yo. Another year on his back strengthened him up nicely & although out of luck on his further four starts of the season, he won the Chelmsford Stakes easily & finally having gotten a taste for winning he went on to record a remarkable twelve more victories in his three year season. Thats more than some modern day horses entire career runs, nevermind wins.

His four year old season saw him grow stronger still & he swept all challengers aside with a mammoth fourteen wins from sixteen starts, quite often making his own running in a race, his long easy stride tearing up the track beneath him. One race he won was the Melbourne Cup & his prep run for this prestigious event was not entirely without incident as with any great celebrity, Red was the victim of an assasination attempt. Heading back to the barn from exercise one morning a car approached him & a shotgun was fired at Red, his groom & his lead pony but miraculously no one was injured & Red lived to win another race. He duly won the gruelling two mile Melbourne Cup (carrying a dead weight of 9st 12lb) by 3 lengths from Second Wind.

(Below pic:- Red at peak fitness. Note the sheer power in his broad shoulders)

Two days after his Melbourne cup win Red won the Linlithgow Stakes also held at Flemington & so in the space of a fortnight he'd survived an attempt on his life & won four races in succession. Im sorry but thats simply amazing. Nowadays if a horse is spooked by a loud noise like a gunshot it would be given copious amounts of "equine psychology therapy" & at least three months off. The end of his four year old season ended with defeat by a short neck. Nothing unusual about that you may think but you'd be so wrong. Poor Red had been displaying Colic symptoms on the morning of the event & as I've also dealt with horses with colic I know that to get them to merely stand up is an achievement, let alone run second in a race! Luckily he could now have a well deserved two month break after which he bounded back as impressive as ever.

As a five year old he won ten of his eleven starts his only defeat coming in the Melbourne Cup where he was unrealistically expect to carry 10st 10lb. Under such ludicrous circumstances Phar Lap raced well but his hard training regime and punishing weight took their toll and he faded to finish eighth. It was after this race it was announced the horse would try & conquer America. Or in other words his owners were dazzled by the prize money (another decision Im sure they regretted once or twice for the rest of their lives). As was is ever thus. Some things just never change.

A two month voyage across the Pacific beckoned, during which time Red's devoted groom, Tommy Woodcock had virtually no freedom for Red would become overanxious as soon as his friend was out of sight & in order to keep the great horse calm Tommy had to stay with his charge around the clock. Of course such an epic journey did not phase Red who after a further two months contested his first (and subsequently his last) race in Mexico, which I suppose was a bit like the Dubai World Cup of its time IE the richest race in the world. Red demolished the field of eleven & broke the track record for good measure.

Unsolved Mystery
(above pic:- Phar Lap's death makes front page news, such was his popularity)

Sadly Red died as agonising death in 1932 in California just days after his Mexican victory. His trainer Harry Telford found the gentle giant in severe pain, with a high temperature & a few hours later he died as blood spurted from his lungs as he haemorrhaged to death. As a horse owner I can't believe his owner/trainer/groom didn't insist on the vet humanely destroying him much sooner than the two hours it took for him to pass away. Poor beautiful noble creature.

Scientists believe Red could have been posioned by US gangsters who thought the horse unbeatable & therefore a threat to their illegal gambling a theory supported by the traces of arsenic found in the horse's system. Its though he was guven a large dose of arsenic one or two days prior to his death.

Some racing experts have maintained Big Red could have died from a gradual build up of the poison as a tonic commonly used by trainers in the 1930's contained arsenic. I guess much like the mystery surrounding the luckless Shergar we'll never truly know what happened to the Aussie legend that was Big Red.

Phar Lap's colossal 6.4kg heart is on display in the National Museum in Canberra, Australia & his sleek golden hide has been preserved via taxidermy & is on display in a glass case in the Melbourne Museum, Australia. I can't see any modern day so-called "legends" such as Authorized being preserved for future generations to visit, can you?

(below:- Phar Lap as he stands today, in the Melbourne Museum, Australia)

I would give my left arm to go see him in person someday. As I have relatives in Oz, maybe thats not such a far fetched notion. Cya soon Red!


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