Phar Lap - The Story of Big Red

Phar Laps' final race at Agua Caliente March 20 1932

Phar Lap didn't always look like a champion. Born in Timaru, New Zealand, in 1926, he was sold for the bargain price of 160 guineas ($336.00). When he arrived in Australia his new owner, American-born David J. Davis, was not very impressed with him. He was skinny and clumsy, with warts all over his head. Davis was angry with the trainer, Harry Telford, who had persuaded him to put up the money to buy the horse. He did not want to waste any more money to pay for its training, so he leased the horse to Telford for the next three years. Telford would pay to train and feed the horse and keep any prize money he won. The trainer, who knew a great deal about racehorse pedigrees, was certain that, with Phar Lap's breeding, he would become a champion.

Although he was named Phar Lap, a Thai phrase meaning 'wink of the skies' or 'lightning', around the stables the horse was known as Bobby. Tom Woodcock, a young stable boy, became Phar Lap's main attendant. Phar Lap was docile and lazy and liked to play tricks on Woodcock. Soon he became so fond of the stable boy that he would not eat unless Woodcock was in his stall with him.

Such was his domination that racing officials changed the rules to try to stop him winning – because he was a gelding and he was taking classics which some people wanted colts to win to boost their worth as sires.

But despite the introduction of penalties to stop him, Phar Lap kept winning.

He was also the subject of a massive betting plunge to win the 1930 Melbourne Cup, which resulted in an attempt to maim him and prevent him from starting.

He was saved from injury by his devoted strapper Tommy Woodcock, and scored the most famous Melbourne Cup win of all days later.

Known as Big Red, he won 36 races in Australia and then won an international race at Agua Caliente in record time after overcoming a hoof injury.

Only days later he died in mysterious circumstances, most likely because of accidental arsenic poisoning, causing a great outpouring of grief in Australia.

Jim Pike on Phar Lap October 5 1929 - Below

Watch this great multimedia story from the Museum of Victoria


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