//
you're reading...
Australian History

On this day (Australia): In 1930, Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup for the first time


Phar Lap

On 4 November 1930, Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup for the first time.

Phar Lap is a legend of Australian sporting history. His sensational rise from humble beginnings captured the public’s imagination during the difficult years of the 1930s Great Depression.

Phar Lap won 37 races from 51 starts, including the 1930 Melbourne Cup. His death in the United States in 1932 prompted an outpouring of anger and grief.

Phar Lap was born at Seadown Stud in Timaru, New Zealand, on 4 October 1926. In January 1928 he was sent to the yearling thoroughbred sale at Trentham.

Sydney-based Australian trainer Harry Telford received a copy of the sale catalogue, and was impressed by the colt’s breeding.

He could not afford to purchase the colt himself, and so he approached American businessman David J Davis to finance the purchase.

Although initially reluctant to commit to the unseen horse, Davis eventually agreed to do so. The future legend was purchased for £160.

Striking appearance

Phar Lap was a rich red chestnut with a white star on his forehead. As a fully matured gelding, he reached 17 hands high (1.7 metres at the withers – a horse’s shoulders) and weighed just over 600 kilograms.

When Phar Lap first arrived at Telford’s stable, his large, lanky frame so unimpressed Davis that he handed responsibility for training, stabling and racing the horse over to Telford under a three-year lease.

Davis agreed to take 30 per cent of any winnings, no doubt thinking at the time that he’d never recoup the purchase price.

A young jockey, Aaron Treve (‘Tommy’) Woodcock, was employed by Telford as a strapper to care for his new prospect. Woodcock and Phar Lap soon established a legendary partnership.

Phar Lap the champion

On 23 February 1929 Phar Lap had an unpromising start as a two-year-old at the Nursery Handicap, Rosehill, where he came last. However, by September 1929 Phar Lap improved spectacularly with a three-length win in the Rosehill Guineas. In 1930 alone, he won 19 races from 21 starts.

During 1930 and 1931 Phar Lap was such a convincing winner – usually beating other horses by several lengths – that many owners and trainers withdrew their horses from races when they heard that he was starting.

One such race was the AJC Plate at Randwick on 26 April 1930 in which only two other horses ran. Phar Lap ran the first two miles (3.2 kilometres) of this race in record time and finished the race 10 lengths in front.

His greatest winning margin was 20 lengths over the two-mile-long King’s Plate at Flemington in March 1930. During the course of his short life, Phar Lap won 37 races from 51 starts.

Phar Lap wins 1930 Melbourne Cup - click to view larger image
Phar Lap winning the 1930 Melbourne Cup

Respite from the Great Depression

Phar Lap’s emergence as a champion coincided with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

His spectacular rise from humble beginnings spoke strongly to the hopes of ordinary people, who affectionately nicknamed him the ‘Red Terror’ and ‘Big Red’.

He was as much a celebrity as the cricketer Don Bradman. Both sporting legends offered people some respite from their daily difficulties, made more accessible by the advent of commercial radio broadcasting and cinema newsreel coverage.

Phar Lap’s image appeared on postcards, cigarette cards, cake tins, tobacco tins and advertising posters for beer and wine.

Melbourne Cup

There was little doubt that Telford would enter his champion in Australia’s most famous race, the Melbourne Cup. Run over two miles (3200 metres), the Melbourne Cup is one of the world’s few major handicap horse races.

Every horse entered in the race is ‘handicapped’ by being given different weights depending on its age, sex and previous form. Phar Lap was entered into the Melbourne Cup three times – in 1929, 1930 and 1931 – each time carrying a handicap which reflected his status as favourite.

The horse was so outstanding that at his third Melbourne Cup attempt in 1931, he was handicapped with the heaviest weight ever set for the race – 10 stone 10 pounds (just over 68 kilograms).

painting of Phar Lap by Stuart Reid - click to view larger image
Phar Lap by Stuart Reid

Threat to Phar Lap

Three mornings before the 1930 Melbourne Cup, Phar Lap was shot at from a passing car while Tommy Woodcock walked him along the streets of Caulfield.

The champion was saved from injury by Woodcock who drove his pony between Phar Lap and the road.

A police investigation of the incident was inconclusive but the media ran articles speculating on the event long afterwards.

Phar Lap went on to win the Melbourne Stakes on the same day by three lengths. He was then sent into hiding to prepare for the Melbourne Cup.

Sydney Morning Herald, 5 November 1930:

Never before has any Melbourne Cup, or, in fact, any racing fixture in Victoria, interested so many people or attracted so much public attention. The appeal to the imagination centred mainly round one horse, Phar Lap, who had become nothing short of an obsession in the public mind.

Phar Lap wins the Melbourne Cup

On Melbourne Cup day, 4 November 1930, Phar Lap arrived at the track late accompanied by a police escort. He was hurried to the blacksmith to get his racing shoes fitted, and made weighing out just in time.

Hail and rain earlier in the day had made the track wet and the horse had been set a very heavy weight of 9 stone 12 pounds (62.7 kilograms).

Phar Lap was ridden by his usual jockey, Jim Pike, who held the horse back at fourth place until about 400 metres from the finish, when he let Phar Lap shoot to the front to win the Cup in front of an ecstatic crowd by three lengths in three minutes 27 seconds.

Sudden death in America

Having won every major race in Australia, Davis and Telford, by now part-owner of Phar Lap, sent their horse to America to contest the 1932 Agua Caliente handicap in Tijuana, Mexico, the richest race in the world at the time.

Phar Lap, ridden by jockey Billy Elliott, won the race by two lengths. Sixteen days later, on 5 April 1932, Phar Lap died in mysterious circumstances in San Francisco. Tommy Woodcock, who was by his side, was heartbroken.

In Australia, Phar Lap’s death was seen as a great tragedy, and rumours spread that the horse may have been poisoned. Debate continues today as to whether he died of an acute bacterial infection or from arsenic poisoning.

Source: National Museum of Australia

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 17,663 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

Coronation Of Emperor Xi and the world thereafter

Coronation Of Emperor Xi and the world thereafter

A few days ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s arrest news took social media by storm. The atmosphere was jubilant as if the whole world looked forward to Xi’s exit. The rumor turned out to be fake news; Xi’s third term looks secured. Xi Jinping is all set to snatch the historic third term in the […]

China is coming for your land

China is coming for your land

Drought has plunged water levels to the lowest in China in decades. The temperatures have also soared to record levels, and hydropower plants failed to meet the sharp rise in power demand. However, this is just a glimpse of the worst things to come. Floods, droughts, and record-breaking temperatures would have a catastrophic effect on […]

Chinese drones now almost a daily appearance over Taiwan

Chinese drones now almost a daily appearance over Taiwan

The Chinese military has intensified its drone incursions into the skies above Taiwan with almost daily flights of combat and reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) TB-001 drone was spotted crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the de facto boundary between the island and China’s […]

India says disengagement along disputed area with China to be completed by September 12

India says disengagement along disputed area with China to be completed by September 12

India’s foreign ministry said on Friday that disengagement along a disputed border area with China will be completed by Sept. 12. Both countries began disengaging from the Gogra-Hot Springs border area in the western Himalayas on Thursday, over two years after clashes at the frontier strained diplomatic ties. The disengagement comes ahead of a meeting […]

How to make EVs without China’s supply chain

How to make EVs without China’s supply chain

Two electrifying moves in recent weeks have the potential to ignite electric vehicle demand in the United States. First, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, expanding federal tax rebates for EV purchases. Then California approved rules to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. The Inflation Reduction Act extends the Obama-era EV tax […]

Anti-India forces: Techniques and agendas exposed

Anti-India forces: Techniques and agendas exposed

In the post-cold war era, India has moved from a policy of non-alignment to a policy of multi-alignment. This means that India has friendly relations with almost all-powerful and developing nations. Today India is carving out a unique path for itself. Such an approach provides prominence and exposes India to the harmful behind-curtain activities by […]

Taiwan’s Kinmen serves as a reminder of China’s aggression

Taiwan’s Kinmen serves as a reminder of China’s aggression

Taiwan’s frontline island of Kinmen was once again in the headlines when President Tsai Ing-wen paid tribute this week to the soldiers and civilians who “operated in solidarity and safeguarded Taiwan” 64 years ago. On Aug. 23, 1958 mainland Chinese troops attacked Kinmen in a key battle that marked the beginning of the Second Taiwan […]

Terrorism: The glue that holds China and Pakistan together 

Terrorism: The glue that holds China and Pakistan together 

The father of communism, Karl Marx, once famously said — “We have no compassion, and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror”. This statement summarises how terrorism and communism go hand in hand. Maoist China alone destroyed between 44.5 to 72 million lives. During […]

‘New normal’ across the Taiwan Strait as China threat looms ever closer

‘New normal’ across the Taiwan Strait as China threat looms ever closer

China is attempting to establish a “new normal” across the Taiwan Strait, eroding self-ruled Taiwan’s territorial control and increasing the threat of a strike with each military sortie, officials and analysts say. Beijing has ramped up military maneuvers in the 110-mile (180-kilometer) wide stretch of water that separates Taiwan from mainland China — and the […]

When Beijing was burning, Xi was playing personal games 

When Beijing was burning, Xi was playing personal games 

A great fire destroyed Rome for six days in the summer of AD 64. Famous Roman historian of that time, Tacitus, recorded that 70 percent of the city was destroyed and half of the city’s residents were displaced. Roman ruler Nero was accused of being indifferent, ineffective, and careless. The end result of this neglect […]

%d bloggers like this: