Object: Horse, Equus caballus
This image has Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons BY-NC-ND .
You may download and use Te Papa’s images of this work as long as you meet the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives copyright licence. Fair dealing, as understood under the New Zealand Copyright Act 1994, also applies.
You must include the attribution credit provided when you download the image.
|Scientific name||Equus caballus|
|Identified by||Roberts, A|
|Common / Maori name||Horse|
|Country collected||United States of America|
|Precise locality||Menlo Park, California|
|Collected by||Davis, David|
|Date collected||05 Apr 1932|
Phar Lap's Skeleton
Phar Lap started life on a stud farm near Timaru in 1926. His breeder sent him to the Trentham yearling sales in early 1928. Harry Telford, a New Zealand horse trainer in Sydney, spotted Phar Lap in the sale catalogue, and liked the look of his pedigree. He didn't have any money to buy the horse, so he got David J Davis, an American living in Sydney, to put up the purchase price - 160 guineas.
His name means 'lightning' in Thai, but Phar Lap was a large, ungainly looking chestnut colt, and he had warts all over his head. Even worse, he was looking thin after a rough sea voyage from Wellington to Sydney. So when his new owner saw him for the first time at Harry Telford's stables, Davis was not at all impressed with Harry's buy. In fact, he refused to spend a single penny more to have Phar Lap trained.
Harry Telford had faith that Phar Lap's pedigree would make him amount to something. But he couldn't afford to buy Phar Lap from Davis, so he got Davis to lease the horse to him instead, with Davis to get one-third of any race winnings. The prospects for those didn't look good for the first few months that Harry was training Phar Lap. Harry backed off the training for a while, gave Phar Lap a spell to get on with his growing (his full adult height was seventeen hands), had him gelded, then renewed the training.
Phar Lap had five starts as a two-year-old in the autumn of 1929. He got nowhere in the first four races, then won the fifth. In the middle of 1929, as a three-year-old, he had another four starts and was unplaced. In his next race, a longer one, Phar Lap finished strongly to come second - Harry Telford's hopes for the horse's ability as a stayer were raised.
Phar Lap had several wins, one in record time, then finished third in his first Melbourne Cup. He was rested most of that summer, then in the autumn of 1930 started his legendary string of successes - he won thirty-three of the remaining thirty-five races in his career.
The punters loved Phar Lap, and he invariably started as odds-on favourite. Others were not so keen - someone, possibly a bookmaker, tried to shoot him as he returned from track work one morning in November 1930. He went on to win the Melbourne Stakes that day and the Melbourne Cup, easily, three days later.
At the end of Phar Lap's three-year lease, Harry Telford became a joint owner in partnership with David J Davis. Davis sent Phar Lap off to race in the United States. Telford was not happy about it, and stayed home. Tom Woodcock, Telford's stable assistant, and Phar Lap's carer since his two-year-old days, accompanied the horse there.
Phar Lap won in record time the prestigious Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico in March 1932. Invitations to race in the eastern United States flooded in. But on 5 April Phar Lap suddenly died, in agonising pain, possibly from eating poisoned grass - the real cause was never established.
So ended a legendary champion - and the distribution of his remains reflects the claims on him by both Australia and New Zealand. His heart and his hide went to Australia. The heart, at 6.3 kilograms extraordinarily large by horse standards, is in a bottle in Canberra. The hide is mounted on a model of Phar Lap in the Museum of Victoria. His bones came back to New Zealand, and are with us here at Te Papa.
Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.