Spirit of the Horse

Simon Wincer returned to direct yet another hugely successful show at the Australian Outback Spectacular and once again incorporated images from his movie wot support eh action in the sand. The legend of Phar Lap lives on today through films, books and museum exhibits and Australian Outback Spectacular celebrated a tribute to this amazing horse in its inspirational show. Phar Lap’s spirit lifted this nation in its darkest hour and to this day, we still like to think there might be a little bit of Phar Lap’s courage in us all.

The Story

Phar Lap’s story touches us where all legends touch us. ‘The ugly duckling that turns into a beautiful swan', 'the underdog who becomes a champion', 'the mythical union of man and beast' and sadly, ‘only the good die young'.

Sydney trainer Harry Telford persuaded American businessman David J. Davis, to buy the colt sight unseen at auction in New Zealand, based on his pedigree. When the horse was obtained for a mere 160 guineas, Telford thought it was a great bargain, until the colt arrived in Australia. It was gangly, his face was covered with warts and he had an awkward gait. Davis was furious at the waste of his money. To placate him, Telford agreed to train the horse for nothing for three years, in exchange for a two-thirds share of any winnings.

Phar Lap finished last in his first race! He won his fifth race and was unplaced in his next four. Then something clicked. Phar Lap achieved extraordinary success. Of his next 41 starts he had 35 wins, 3 seconds and 2 thirds. In a unique feat in 1930, Phar Lap won a race on each of the four days of the 1930 Melbourne Cup carnival.

The great depression of 1929 saw poverty and degradation for many Australians. Along with the great Don Bradman, Phar Lap became a national hero, giving depression Australia something to cheer about.

As his achievements grew, there were some who tried to halt his progress. On the morning of Saturday 1 November 1930, as he was returning from track work, unidentified criminals tried to shoot him. They missed and later that day, Phar Lap won the Melbourne Stakes and three days later the Melbourne Cup as odds-on favourite at 8 to 11.

With handicappers determined to bring Phar Lap back to the field, Telford and Davis were Convinced the increasing handicap weights would kill their champion and chose to race overseas at a prestigious invitational meeting at Aqua Caliente, a huge gambling complex just south of the American border in Mexico.

Phar Lap won at Aqua Caliente, in record time, despite racing out of season and with a badly cracked hoof. A huge triumph !

Phar Lap became an international star. Hollywood studios were pressing with film offers. But, film star fame couldn't help when Phar Lap contracted a mystery disease. Despite the best efforts of top veterinarians, he died soon after.

Even some 70 years after his death, Phar Lap remains an enduring symbol of the Australian turf. He now resides as the most popular exhibit in the Melbourne Museum, a life-like monument to his greatness. His mammoth 14 pound heart, twice the weight of an average racehorse, is in the National Museum in Canberra, while his skeleton is displayed in the Dominion Museum in Wellington.