Biography of Race Horse Phar Lap Part 1

About the footnote race horse Phar Lap, biography and history of the Red Terror from Down Under.


The Tragedy of Phar Lap

In the winter of 1932, American racing braced itself for an invasion by Phar Lap, a strapping 6-year-old gelding looking for new worlds to conquer. The champion from Australia had demolished the competition at home and was hailed as "the Red Terror from Down Under" on his January arrival in North America. By March he was ready to stake his reputation against America's best.

Nothing in Phar Lap's background had suggested championship potential. He was bred in New Zealand. His sire was Night Raid and his dam Entreaty, an undistinguished parentage. But an Australian trainer, Harry Telford, saw promise in the young colt's powerful build and persuaded another Melbourne racing man. J.D. Davis, to put up the 160 guineas to purchase him (a paltry sum, even by Depression standards).

The young Phar Lap (a Singhalese word meaning "lighting") was less than auspicious in his racing debut. He lost four straight races before his first victory, which was followed by eight more defeats. Such a record of futility only enhances his lifetime mark of 37 wins in 51 starts--after losing 12 of his first 13.

It was in 1930 as a 4-year-old that Phar Lap began to show his true ability. At one point, he reeled off 14 straight victories, including six in eight weeks! He smashed records at five different distances, and won the prestigious Melbourne Cup, a grueling event in which he carried 9 lb. more than any previous winner.

His increasing notoriety was not entirely beneficent, however. One morning on the way home from a prerace workout, the horse and his trainer were followed down a side street by a closed sedan. A man with a shotgun suddenly appeared in the back seat and opened fire. Fortunately, the shots were erratic, and both horse and trainer escaped unharmed. The assailants were never identified or apprehended.

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