SPORTING Oz Horse Racing

Phar Lap
Australia Crest

Champion racehorse in the 1930s, affectionately known as Big Red.

Bred in New Zealand but descended from great Aussie champion Carbine on both sides of his pedigree.

When he arrived in Sydney his owner didn't want the gangly gelding with warts over his face. He leased him to trainer Harry Telford who had bought the horse, sight unseen, on his behalf.

The sheer size of the horse meant that he was slow to mature and it was at his eleventh start when he finally won the Rosehill Guineas. This was the beginning of greatness as he was to win 35 of his next 41 starts, beating great horses such as Amounis, Nightmarch and Chatham - handicaps, weight-for-age, it didn't matter!

Phar Lap W S Cox Plate 1930
Phar Lap W S Cox Plate 1930 (compliments of

Phar Lap is still the only horse to start at odds-on in the Melbourne Cup, and he won that in 1930 by 3 lengths under 62.5kg in record time at Flemington.

Phar Lap was then taken to Mexico under the care of Tommy Woodcock and won the world's richest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap, beating the best horses in the world. Then disaster, Phar Lap was found dying on April 5th, 1932, at Menlo Park, California, either by the hand of the Mafia who had bet against him in the big race or by pasture that had been sprayed with chemicals. It was not a good time to be an American visiting Australia - the nation was shocked!

His body was brought back to Australia and his heart, hide and skeleton are on display at different locations. His heart was twice the size of a normal racehorse's heart.

In all, Phar Lap won 37 of his 51 starts and in February, 1999, was voted no 22 of the top 100 horses to race in USA or North America this century by US Blood-Horse. Former US jockey great Johnny Longden said "Of all the horses I have seen, Phar Lap was the greatest."

There is a wonderful film called Phar Lap starring Tom Burlinson with Martin Vaughan and screenplay by David Williamson.

The horse who played the champion in the film was called Towering Inferno. It took months of searching to find a lookalike as Phar Lap (Thai for lightning) was 17 hands+ and weighed about 700kg. Sadly, Towering Inferno, aged 26, was destroyed in April, 1999, after being hit by lightning.

Copyright © Dinkum Aussies 1999 All Rights Reserved,
feedback to Webmaster