Phar Lap
Extraordinary Photos

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Phar Lap cb.JPG (70351 bytes)

 

Above:  from 1934-35 Aqua Caliente! Condition Book 
from the private collection of H. E. 'Buck' Hopkins.

Jan. 15, 1932: 
Australian champion Phar Lap arrived in San Francisco. He was
shipped by steamship to the U.S., en route to Agua Caliente in Mexico, where
he was to make his North American racing debut in the March 20 Agua Caliente
Handicap, the continent's then-richest race.

March 20, 1932: 
 Phar Lap, legendary champion race horse of Australia, 
won his only start in North America, the Aqua Caliente Handicap at Aqua Caliente Racecourse in Mexico. 
His time for the 1 1-4-mile race was 2:02 4-5, a track record. 
The six year old Phar Lap died one month later and the cause of his death remains a mystery. During his four years of racing in Australia,
 Phar Lap won 36 of 50 starts.

 

 

Phar Lap, 1926  Night Raid - Entreaty  by Winkie

 

Foaled in New Zealand and sold as a yearling for $800

Trained by Tom Woodcock and Ridden by Billy Elliott

Extraordinary Picture File
From the personal collection of Bill Miller

 Before Equipoise began his comeback as a four-year-old
there appeared in the West
an enormous gelding considered by many experts
--including jockey Eddie Arcaro, New York State Steward Francis Dunne and Marshall Cassidy, who succeeded his father as dean of American racing officials--
as the greatest thoroughbred ever to race on the American continent. What is more striking, the horse concerned gained his lofty stature in exactly 2 minutes 2 4/5 seconds. Phar Lap.

As a four-year-old Phar Lap won fourteen consecutive stakes,
including the Melbourne Cup under 138 pounds. In the century-plus history of Australia's greatest race, only three times has it been won under higher weight. At five the big gelding was eight for nine, his sole loss having been in the Cup, in which he carried 150 pounds and the winner 98.

Phar Lap arrived in California
a few months in advance of the Caliente race and then
underwent the most peculiar training regimen ever seen in America. No fast trials, no blowing out, none of the accepted works. In fact, much of the horse's exercise wasn't on the track.
Trainer Tom Woodcock rode Phar Lap over the countryside, much as a rancher would ride his cow pony, up and down sandy hills,
over rocky ground and through mesquite. Marshall Cassidy, who was starter at Caliente, tried to persuade Woodcock to school Phar Lap out of the stalls with a Maxwell barrier, but although the horse had no experience at this type of start, his trainer disdained practice sessions. Phar Lap would come away properly, he said.

The biggest shock of all came on the day of the race, when jockey Billy Elliott mounted Phar Lap and hour before post time and paraded him around the infield, in the hot Mexican sun, under his full assignment of 129 pounds, " to get him accustomed to the weight." On Phar Lap's frame--16-3 and 1,450 pounds--it was a feather.

Eleven horses paraded to the post on March 20, 1932, for one of the most sensational contests ever seen. Among its numerous other features, the Caliente track boasted the world's largest collection of starting chutes, one for every conceivable distance. The start of the Caliente Handicap was effected from the 1 1/4-mile chute, and true to his trainer's prediction, Phar Lap emerged with his field. However, he went immediately to the outside for an inspection tour of the 1 1/8-mile chute which slanted into the track a furlong farther on, and passing the grandstand the first time around he was fully 50 yards behind the pack. Having satisfied his curiosity, Phar Lap then bounded into the lead. From sixth place after half a mile had been run, he had moved to first place before the end of 6 furlongs. He crossed the finish eased up, two lengths clear of Reveille Boy, who was carrying 118 pounds. In his effortless romp, the gelding from New Zealand had set a new track record of 2:02 4/5, breaking the mark that Mile Hall had established the year before under only 116 pounds.

The Caliente track was not exceptionally fast that day, Of the fifteen races on the programs, none of the others was won in time anywhere near a track record. In the race immediately following Phar Lap's victory, Eddie Arcaro won on Wizardry in 2:07 1/5 for the same distance. The winner of the last race required 2:08 for the 1 1/4-miles.

Tracks all over the country were vying with one another to schedule rich races that would attract the super-horse and Bowie offered $10,000 just to have him gallop around the track under silks.

On the morning of April 4 a group of reporters who had driven the 30 miles out to Menlo Park [Tanforan ?] from San Francisco to see the great horse  were somewhat peeved when they were instructed to come back later. When they did return that afternoon,
Woodcock met them with tears streaming down his face,
and informed them that
Phar Lap was dead.

His huge carcass was mounted by a taxidermist and exhibited at Belmont Park on Futurity day, after which it was sent home to Australia.

The autopsy provided a possible clue as to what made Phar Lap tick. The great gelding's heart weighed 14 pounds, compared to the 9-pound heart of another thoroughbred which was dissected at the same time.

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