Phar Lap: The top Aussie Thoroughbred

When the Great Depression hit Australia, Phar Lap was one of the things that kept Australians feeling positive during one of the darkest periods of the 20th century. After finishing last in his first race, he bounced back and became a success story that no one could've predicted. Phar Lap's rise to fame and his success captured the hearts of Australian horse racing fans, allowing them to forget about the Great Depression every time he raced. Dominating the Australian racing scene by accumulating 24 major wins, Phar Lap became a national icon for both Australians and New Zealanders alike, having his memory cemented in immortality.

Phar Lap's Profile

  • Place of birth: Timaru, South Island, New Zealand

  • Date of birth and death: October 4, 1926 to April 5, 1932 (5 years old)

  • Sex: Gelding

  • Owners: David Davis and Harry Telford

  • Trainer: Harry Telford

  • Sire: Night Raid

  • Dam: Entreaty

  • Jockeys: Jim Pike, Billy Elliot, Jack Baker, James L. Munro,

  • Record: 51:37–3–2

  • Career earnings: £A66,738

Phar Lap's Achievements

People say that a first impression is the most important one, but that is not the case for Phar Lap, who lost his very first race and did not place in the following three. Instead of being written off, he eventually bounced back, winning the 1927 Maiden Juvenile Handicap. Phar Lap was known for his signature winning strategy: he would start off each race a bit slower than the other horses until utilizing his energy to win from the outside.

In 1930, Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup while carrying a handicap of 138 pounds, showing off his raw talent. In fact, his impressive showcase of endurance and athleticism led to people coining the phrase "a heart as big as Phar Lap," which is still used today at times. His 1930 Melbourne Cup win truly put Australia on the world stage of horse racing and the national pride for Phar Lap's accomplishments was endless. Between 1930 and 1931, Phar Lap went on a winning streaking, becoming victorious in 14 races in a row.

In total, Phar Lap went on to win a total of 37 races out of 51 starts, truly becoming the light that Australians and New Zealanders needed during the Great Depression. He is also ranked #22 on Blood-Horse magazine's Top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th century.

Notable Remarks

Phar Lap's name comes from the Zhuang-Thai word "farlap," which is their word for lightning, which was a fitting name for the horse after he would constantly pass by his competition.

Phar Lap's status as a global icon cannot be understated. After Phar Lap won the Agua Caliente Handicap and cheered on by over 50,000 people in attendance, King George V sent a telegram to congratulate him on his victory.

MGM Studios offered Phar Lap's owner, David Davis, $100,000 to star in some short films, but that never came to be because the horse died a few days after the offer.

Unfortunately, Phar Lap passed away in California in 1932 and the cause for his death is still a mystery to this day, with many people believing that he was poisoned, whether that was on purpose or by accident.

While he was alive, the "heart as big as Phar Lap" saying was just an expression, but the autopsy revealed that his heart, at 14 lbs, was actually 1.5 times bigger than a normal horse's heart at 7.1 lbs. Phar Lap's heart is now on display at the National Museum of Australia, with his taxidermized body on display at the Melbourne Museum.

In his honor, there are streets named after Phar Lap in both Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Australia has even featured him on postage stamps and the Australian citizenship test, while New Zealand has honoured him with a life-size statue where he was foaled.