Turf Hallmarks


 Genetic Markers




 Search our site

 E-mail us


Portraits Index

Other Images

  English Foundation Mares

  Half-Bred Foundation Mares

  Foundation Sires

  Horses That Jump

  Or Use our Search Engine

Related Links

The British East India Company in Early Australia

History of the Australian Stud Book

Horse Racing in Australia

Australian Race Charts

New Zealand Race Charts

Colonial Foundation Mares

Leading Sires in Australia

Leading Sires in New Zealand


  Phar Lap

Phar Lap  
Chestnut gelding, 1926 - 1932
By Night Raid - Entreaty by Winkie

Darley Arabian Sire line
Doncaster Branch
Family #2 - r

Night Raid His sire, Night Raid

Phar Lap was a horse of almost mythic proportions, literally and figuratively. A mammoth chestnut gelding, his huge strides ate up the ground and his competition with dominating ruthlessness. He came along at a time of deep economic depression, and his exploits elevated him to the status of an Australian cultural icon. His sudden and untimely death, still a mystery after more than three-quarters of a century, transformed him into a legendary figure, beloved by horse lovers the world over.

The beginning of Phar Lap's story was hardly the stuff of legends. His parents were, to put it charitably, well-bred underachievers. As a foal and yearling, Phar Lap was a large, gangly specimen, seemingly more well suited to steeplechasing than running on the flat. He was sired by the imported stallion Night Raid, and was out of Entreaty, by Winkie.

Night Raid possessed as fine a pedigree as one could wish for. His sire was Radium, the last top-class son of the mighty Bend Or. Radium's dam, Taia, was winless on the racecourse, but was a daughter of the Duke of Portland's Derby and St. Leger winner Donovan. Radium was a slow-developing racehorse, not reaching his best form until his four and five-year-old seasons, when he captured two editions of the Jockey Club Cup as well as the Goodwood and Doncaster Cups. One of the mares sent to Radium in the spring of 1917 was the exquisitely-bred Sentiment, a daughter of Derby hero Spearmint from Flair, victress in the One Thousand Guineas and a half-sister to the dam of dual Ascot Gold Cup winner Prince Palatine. In 1918 Sentiment dropped Night Raid for her owner, Major F.C. Stern.

Night Raid proved a dismal failure on English racecourses, failing to record a victory in six starts for Archie Douglas-Pennant and his trainer, Captain Tom Hogg, his best a third in a nursery selling plate. The colt's disappointed owners were only too glad to be rid of Night Raid, eagerly selling for only £120 to trainer J. McGuigan. He in turn sold Night Raid, along with another stallion named Cymric, to Sydney trainer Peter Keith, £950 for the pair. Night Raid had some races in Australia, but fared only a bit better, winning one race for Keith before being sold to leading Sydney owner A.P. Wade, for whom he dead-heated for first in a race, after which, while training at Melbourne, he broke down. After this he was sold to New Zealander A.F. Roberts, and stood at Kaituna until Roberts built his new stud at Timaru, on New Zealand's south island.

As a stallion, Night Raid proved successful, mostly of good distance horses. During his stud career, he sired Nightly, winner of the New Zealand Derby and Canterbury Cup and other races in New Zealand, and the AJC Randwick Plate and VRC C.B. Fisher Plate in Australia; Nightbeam, winner of the AJC Metropolitan and other races; Lady Graceful, winner of the New Zealand Oaks; and Nightmarch, winner of the Melbourne Cup, AJC Epsom Handicap, New Zealand Cup, and many other important races in both New Zealand and Australia, and a successful sire in his own right. But Night Raid's masterpiece was his son out of Entreaty.

Entreaty, a black mare, was foaled in 1920. She broke down after one race and was retired to the breeding shed. She was sired by imported Winkie, a full brother to One Thousand Guineas victress Winkipop. He was a fiarly successful stallion that got winners at all distances, his best Pilliewinkie (1919), a winner in New Zealand of the CJC Metrpolitan Handicap and Dunedin Cup, and in Australia of the 18 furlong Australian Cup, the VRC King's Plate (16 furlongs), the 10 furlong Essendon Stakes, and other good races. Entreaty's broodmare sire, imported Pilgrim's Progress, was a son of the foundation mare Pilgrimage, and thus a half-brother to classic winners Jeddah and Canterbury Pilgrim and sire Loved One. Most of his offspring were successful winners of distance races in Queensland and South Australia, and he had sired Abundance (1899), winner of both the AJC and VRC Derbies and St. Leger Stakes, CJC New Zealand Oaks winner Mercy, and other good horses.

Phar Lap was foaled at Timaru on October 4, 1926. He was destined to be sold as a yearling. Accordingly, he was offered as lot 41 at the New Zealand Yearling Sales at Trentham racecourse in January of 1928. The colt was purchased by Hugh Telford, the brother of New Zealand trainer Harry Telford for 160 guineas for the account of David J. Davis, a Russian-born American citizen who had come to Australia and amassed a modest fortune as an importer of fine china and silver. Harry Telford had served a useful apprenticeship with the many-times leading trainer, both in New Zealand and Australia, Dick Mason (trainer of Gloaming), before establishing his own stable in New South Wales.

Phar Lap on the Turf

The unnamed Night Raid--Entreaty colt was shipped across the Tasman Sea to join Telford's stableyard in Australia. When he disembarked from the ship, the gangly chestnut was thin and his head was covered with pimples. Davis was livid at having paid out anything for such a pathetic looking creature. He was only persuaded to keep him by entering an agreement with Telford, in which the latter would lease the colt for three years, pay for feed and entry fees, Davis to get a third of any purse money won. Appeased by this arrangement, Davis left the homely horse in Telford's care, not expecting the colt to amount to anything worthwhile. The colt was given to a young man named Tommy Woodcock to rub, and the two became nearly inseparable companions. Tommy affectionately called the horse "Bobby."

The son of Night Raid was gelded, the thought being such a large, backward colt would benefit from the procedure. Phar Lap eventually grew to stand over 17 hands with a girth of 79 inches. Dr. Stewart Mc Kay wrote of him "Phar Lap's head was just a plain head, nothing small or mean about it, but it lacked that beautiful molding so characteristic of the Thoroughbred. ..his neck was a little disappointing, as it lacked character and there was no sign of any crest...its strong muscles did not take away from its flexibility. There was one great advantage in a neck like this in a big horse for it was not overweighted, and one reason for it was that he had been gelded. There can be little doubt that the extra weight of the stallion's neck...makes a tremendous difference to the condition of the racer's forelegs...When one looks at Phar Lap's hindquarters one at one sees where his great strength lay: we could look at a thousand racers and never see anything so perfect as his croup, thigh, gaskins, and cannons. His hind-quarters should have been modeled and cast as the 'perfect hind-quarters."

The mammoth colt was given the name "Phar Lap", Thai word for lightening. Davis and racegoers must have had a good laugh over the choice of name when Phar Lap first began racing. He was unplaced in his first four starts before garnering a victory in his last start of the season, the Rosehill Maiden Juvenile Handicap over six furlongs.

His three-year-old season also got off to a sluggish start, again unplaced in his first four starts before running a strong second to brilliant colt Mollison in the Chelmsford Stakes, over nine furlongs at Randwick. To that point in his racing career, Phar Lap had won only one of nine starts. After his superb effort in the Chelmsford, defeats would be few and far between for the gentle-natured chestnut giant.

The Rosehill Guineas and the AJC Derby at Randwick, the Craven Plate at Randwick and the VRC Derby at Flemington all fell in succession to Phar Lap, and it was decided to let him take his chance against a full field of older runners in Australia's premier race, the Melbourne Cup. His two Derby victories had been won in the time of 2:31 1/4, a world record in both. His brilliant form, his connections felt, earned him a berth in the starting post for the Melbourne Cup. Among those he would face in the Cup was Night Raid's year-older son, Nightmarch.

Regular jockey Jim Pike was unable to make the 104 pound weight assignment. His substitute, Bobbie Lewis, was unable to restrain Phar Lap, and the mighty chestnut went straight to the lead and tried to make all the running in the two-mile race. He gave a valiant effort, but in the end was passed by both Nightmarch and Paquito to finish third. A short time later, again with Lewis aboard, Phar Lap dropped to nine furlongs for the St. George Stakes at Caulfield, where he finished third to Amounis. Phar Lap was not to taste defeat again for the rest of the season.

Jim Pike was back aboard for the VRC St. Leger at Flemington, Phar Lap easily won, and cakewalked through his remaining races, recording victories in the Governor's Plate and King's Plate, both at Flemington, the Warwick Farm Chipping Norton Stakes, the AJC St. Leger, Cumberland Stakes, and AJC Plate at Randwick, and the Morphettville Elder Stakes and Morphettville King's Cup. In the AJC Plate, run over 2-1/4 miles, Phar Lap got his revenge on Nightmarch, drubbing that son of Night Raid by ten lengths.

Given a good rest over the off season, and trained over the deep sandy hills of Australia's coast, Phar Lap came back at age four bigger, stronger, and nearly unbeatable. In sixteen races that season, Phar Lap was beaten only twice, finishing second to Amounis in his seasonal debut, the Warwick Farm Warwick Stakes, and second to Waterline in the C.M. Lloyd Stakes at Flemington. Following his surprise second place finish in the Warwick Stakes, Phar Lap literally ran the gallant Nightmarch out of Australia. The elder son of Night Raid succumbed to the onslaught of "The Red Terror," as Australian racegoers affectionately dubbed Phar Lap. Nightmarch ran second to Phar Lap in four consecutive races, the Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick, the Rosehill Hill Stakes, and the Spring Stakes and Craven Plate at Randwick. In the latter, Phar Lap defeated his rival by six lengths in record time. Night March's owner , hopeful of a repeat victory in the Melbourne Cup, realized it was futile to compete against Phar Lap, and announced he was sending his horse to compete in New Zealand.

That left the Melbourne Cup seemingly at the mercy of Phar Lap, especially since the giant chestnut added further victories to his resume in the AJC Plate at Randwick, the W. S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, and the Melbourne Stakes at Flemington. There was some drama shortly before the latter race. When Woodcock, on a stablepony, was leading Phar Lap back to the barn after exercise, a car approached and fired a shotgun round at the champion. Miraculously, neither Phar Lap, Woodcock, or the stablepony were injured in the mysterious incident. The culprits were never captured, and Phar Lap went out to easily capture the Melbourne Stakes that very afternoon.

Phar Lap
Phar Lap in motion
Removed to the relative seclusion of St. Albans Stud near Geelong, Phar Lap continued his preparations for the Melbourne Cup three days hence without any further incident, until race day. Then, the van carrying him to Flemington encountered engine trouble. After a nail-biting time of trying to get the van started, the attempts were met with success and the prohibitive favorite arrived at Flemington less than an hour before post time. Phar Lap was burdened with 138 pounds. The giant gelding tried to drag his way to the front, but was kept under a good hold by Pike, who got his charge to settle back of the leaders in the grueling two-mile event. Once the field turned for home, Pike let his anxious mount go, and Phar Lap stormed to an effortless three length victory over Second Wind.

Two days after his Melbourne Cup victory, Phar Lap scored an easy win in the Linlithgow Stakes at Flemington, and two days after that, took the C.B. Fisher Plate at the same course. Thus, in the space of one week, Phar Lap had survived an assassination attempt and won four races in succession. The lease agreement Telford enjoyed with Davis came to an end after the Fisher Plate. But Davis generously allowed Telford to purchase half of Phar Lap for £4000, and for the rest of his career, Phar Lap raced for the two men in partnership.

It made no difference to Phar Lap, who went about his usual business of winning race after race. Given a two month hiatus, Phar Lap re-emerged on Valentine's Day, 1931 and scored an easy victory in the St. George Stakes at Caulfield. That race was at nine furlongs. Telford then entered his star in the seven furlong Futurity Stakes at Caulfield. Phar Lap had not run at a distance of under a mile since the beginning of his three-year-old season. His race in the Caulfield Futurity not only showcased his extreme versatility, but his courage and determination, as well. The long-striding chestnut needed a route of ground to get a full head of steam up, and in the early stages of the race, he was about thirty lengths back of the leaders. Twice, when he made runs, he was blocked by traffic and had to be checked, each time losing momentum. Once he got a clear shot, his legions of admirers feared it was too late. Mystic Peak looked a sure winner. Phar Lap kept coming and coming, and at the wire, he was the victor by a neck. The victory made Phar Lap Australia's leading money earner. He was not yet done on the season.

A week later, Phar Lap took the 1-1/4 mile Essondon Stakes at Flemington, and a week after that, the twelve furlong King's Plate at Flemington. His last race of the year was in Flemington's C.M. Lloyd Stakes. Despite suffering some colic symptoms the morning of the race, and despite the fact he was not totally fit, he ran a wonderful race to lose by only a neck to the lightly-regarded Waterline. Phar Lap was then retired for the year and sent to Bacchus Marsh to prepare for his five-year-old season.

Phar Lap was virtually unstoppable at five. He began the year on August 25, 1931 with a victory in the one mile Underwood Stakes. Then came successive victories in the Memsie Stakes at Caulfield, the Rosehill Hill Stakes, and the Spring Stakes, Craven Plate, and AJC Plate, all at Randwick. It was then on to Moonee Valley and a repeat score in the W. S. Cox Plate, before moving on to Flemington and the Melbourne Stakes. Surprisingly, Phar Lap was all out to hold off Concentrate by half a length. Part of his performance lay in disagreement between Telford and Woodcock. During this part of Phar Lap's five-year-old season, Telford had entrusted the bulk of Phar Lap's training to Tommy Woodcock while he concentrated on the other runners in his stable, which had grown considerably with the horses of clients anxious to have their horses trained by the conditioner of Australia's most famous racehorse. Telford felt the younger man was too lenient in his training methods and tightened the screws on Phar Lap's training, leaving him a tired horse when he performed in the Melbourne Stakes. More severely hard works followed the Melbourne Stakes leading up to the Cup, which led to Phar Lap's physical condition being not as robust as it normally was.

Nevertheless, neither the betting public nor the handicappers felt Phar Lap could be beaten in his second attempt at capturing the Melbourne Cup. So confident was the Flemington racing secretary, he assigned Phar Lap the unbelievable weight of 150 pounds for the two mile race. In the race itself, Phar Lap raced well under the circumstances, but his hard training regimen and the crushing weight took their toll, and he faded to finish eighth.

It was then announced Phar Lap would travel to the United States to compete. His first scheduled race in North America was the Agua Caliente Handicap at Tijuana, Mexico, at the time the richest race in the world. On November 20, 1931, Phar Lap was loaded aboard the ship Ulimaroa and shipped across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where he would stay for several weeks before embarking on the long voyage to the United States. Phar Lap and his entourage boarded the Monowai, on which had been installed not only a comfortable stall for Phar Lap to travel in, but a small walking enclosure and a sand roll. Tons of oats and hay were brought along on the journey, enough to last the horse's needs for many months. Tommy Woodcock had virtually no freedom on the long voyage across the Pacific, as Phar Lap would become overanxious when his young friend was not within his sight. In order to keep Phar Lap calm, Tommy Woodcock had to stay with his charge around the clock. Finally, on January 15, 1932, the ship reached San Francisco. Phar Lap was initially shipped to Tanforan racecourse to get his "sea legs" back, then in late January, was shipped to Tijuana to prepare for the big race, scheduled for March 20th.

Phar Lap wins at Agua Caliente
Phar Lap after winning the world's richest race, Agua Caliente, Billy Elliot up
The race itself proved anticlimactic. Phar Lap went off a heavy favorite and ran as such, winning the 1-1/4 mile race over eleven opponents in 2:02 4/5, a track record. No one knew it at the time, but Phar Lap had run his last race. During his career, he had won 37 of 51 races. He was at the time ranked third among horses in terms of purse money won, with America's Sun Beau and France's Ksar ahead of him. Phar Lap was shipped up to Edward Perry's Atherton ranch, thirty miles south of San Francisco, California, for a rest while his future racing plans were considered. Thousands of fans came to see the heroic Australian champion during his short stay there. Then, suddenly, on April 5, 1932, Phar Lap fell ill and died.

What happened to Phar Lap is still a mystery three-quarters of a century later. What is known is that in the early morning hours of April 5, 1932, Tommy Woodcock checked on Phar Lap and found the horse listless with a fever and irregular heart beat. Phar Lap's vet was summoned and the horse was treated for colic. After a while, Phar Lap improved a bit, but then worsened. By lunchtime, the horse was in agonizing pain. Woodcock for hours tried to keep Phar Lap walking in the stableyard. By mid-afternoon, Phar Lap collapsed. He nuzzled his devoted caretaker Tommy Woodcock, spewed some blood and fluid from his nostrils, and died.
The cause of death has been a matter of conjecture ever since. An initial autopsy found traces of arsenic in the horse's system. Trees around the stable where Phar Lap had been staying in the weeks since his victory in Mexico had, in the days before his death, been sprayed with an insecticide made up of an arsenic-based compound. Some theorized Phar Lap had been deliberately poisoned by gangsters or overzealous anti-racing activists. Tommy Woodcock went to his grave believing Phar Lap had been poisoned.

Some vets disagreed with the poison theory, asserting even though arsenic was present in Phar Lap's system, the amount was not enough to be fatal. Recently, a theory was espoused Phar Lap died from Duodenitis-Proximal jejunitis, a bacterial intestinal enteritis characterized by fever, increased heart rate, colic, build up of fluids in the stomach, perforation of the stomach, and ultimately, death, all the symptoms Phar Lap suffered. The disease, not known in the early 1930s, is often related to stress. Phar Lap had endured a severe training regimen, a hard race in the Melbourne Cup, a lengthy sea journey, and another race in a foreign land.

However, as recently as two months ago (2006), a study was released saying tests done on hair samples from Phar Lap revealed the presence of arsenic in a large amount, the conclusion being he was given a single dose of the poison shortly before his death. Adding to the mystique, after autopsy, it was said several of Phar Lap's internal organs were placed in a metal box and buried in a secret location near the site of his demise which has never been found. The mystery will probably never be solved.

Phar Lap's hide was stuffed, and is now on display at the Melbourne Museum. His skeleton is on display at the Dominion Museum in Wellington, New Zealand. His heart, which weighed over fourteen pounds, was given to the Institute of Anatomy in Canberra, Australia. Thousands of visitors each year visit these relics of one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time.

Though his dam, Entreaty, had many more foals after Phar Lap, none ever approached Phar Lap's ability. A full sister named Nea Lap was imported to the USA, and became the dam of major stakes winner Four Freedoms. Another sister, Raphis, became the dam of Australian Broodmare of the Year Bobalong, and second dam of Australian champion Monte Carlo. Raphis was also tail-female ancestress of the top mare Research, honored as Australia's Horse of the Year for the 1988/1989 season. Phar Lap's sister, Fortune's Wheel, became tail-female ancestress of the great mare Sunline, twice voted Australian Horse of the Year and four times New Zealand's Horse of the Year. Phar Lap never had the opportunity, being a gelding, to serve at stud. But the bloodlines from which he sprang are still strong.

--by Liz Martiniak

PHAR LAP, Chestnut colt, 1926 - Family #2 - r
Night Raid
b. 1918
b. 1903
Bend Or
ch. 1877
Rouge Rose
b. 1892
b. 1912
b. 1903
Maid of the Mint
b. 1903
St. Frusquin
blk. 1920
ch. 1912
William the Third
b. 1898
St. Simon
br. 1895
Prayer Wheel
b. 1905
Pilgrim's Progress
ch. 1889
Catherine Wheel
br. 1876
Miss Kate

Home   Historic Sires   Historic Dams   Portraits   Turf Hallmarks   Breeders   Genetics   Resources   Contributors   Search   Store   E-mail

©2006 Thoroughbred Heritage. All rights reserved.