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Phar Lap

Phar Lap, the champion racehorse of the great depression era, was foaled in New Zealand and died in the USA, but experienced most of the triumphs of his brilliant career on Melbourne racetracks. Phar Lap was an unpromising prospect when struggling trainer Harry Telford purchased him for businessman David Davis in 1927 and then convinced Davis to lease the horse to him. After a shaky beginning, Phar Lap achieved 37 wins, three second places and two third places in the 51 races for which he was entered between 1929 and 1932. He was favourite for three consecutive Melbourne Cups, and in 1930 won four races in eight days at Flemington, including the Cup (with a massive weight of 62.5 kg), after winning the Cox Plate the previous week. His consistent results and apparent courage won him thousands of admirers across Australia. In 1932 he won the rich Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico, but died shortly after at a stable in California. Although an autopsy suggested that 'acute enteritis' had killed him, a grieving Australian public suspected foul play and speculation as to the cause of death has continued to the present day. While Phar Lap's skeleton was presented to the National Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, and his massive heart to the Institute of Anatomy (later National Museum) in Canberra, his mounted hide was presented to the Victorian National Museum (now Museum Victoria). Exhibited in a glass case, Phar Lap instantly attracted crowds paying tribute to their dead hero and, since 1933, has remained the Museum's most popular exhibit as the Phar Lap legend has been passed down from generation to generation.

Jill Barnard

Armstrong, Geoff, and Peter Thompson, Phar Lap, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2000. Details