Phar Lap with jockey Jim Pike riding at Flemington race track circa 1930
Phar Lap with jockey Jim Pike riding at Flemington race track circa 1930 Charles Daniel Pratt

Phar Lap: What you don't know about our favourite horse

YOU cannot have a conversation about the Melbourne Cup without giving at least a passing thought to the greatest racing legend of all Cups -- Phar Lap.

Between 1929 and 1931, as the Great Depression began to take hold of Australia, Phar Lap ruled all.

His five wins in the 1930 Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival remains unbeaten.

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Before you head to the Cup, read up on some of the history behind the country's most famous racer.


Phar Lap came from across the ditch

Yep, the great Australian icon of a horse was a Kiwi.

Phar Lap was foaled on October 4, 1926 near Timaru on New Zealand's South Island.

He came to Australia after Sydney trainer Harry Telford persuaded an American businessman to spend up to 190 guineas at a 1928 sale. At 160 guineas, it was a steal.

When Phar Lap arrived, he was covered in warts, gangly and had an unusual gait.

The businessman refused to pay to train Phar Lap. Telford offered to train the horse in exchange for two-thirds of the winnings. It was a deal that would pay off.

The Kiwi horse was named ฟ้าแลบ 

Phar Lap is thought to have been named by young med student Aubrey Ping, who hung around to watch horses at Randwick. Ping learned Zhuang Chinese from his father.

He suggested the horse could be named "Farlap", which means lighting or "sky flash" in both Thai and Zhuang.

Telford liked the name but dropped the F to PH, then split it in two.

A seven letter split-word name was the hallmark of Melbourne Cup winners.

More than a heroic horse

The poster for 1983 film Phar Lap
The poster for 1983 film Phar Lap Contributed

Before Phar Lap headed abroad to win the Agua Caliente - North America's richest horse race at the time - he was already a hero at home. Many feared sending the beloved horse by sea to the States.

He developed a reputation of being almost human, with many likening the horse's spirit with that of our Gallipoli soldiers.
Strong yet humble and likeable.

He would be shown playing in sandpits or gently taking apples from strapper Tommy Woodcock.

It had already escaped a shooting attack by criminals but the horse could not shake whatever happened in the US.

After his still-mysterious death in 1932 in California, Telford summed up Australia's love of the horse:

"He was an angel. A human being couldn't have had more sense. He was almost human; could do anything but talk. I've never practised idolatry, but by ... I loved that horse."


Phar Lap's heart and body is scattered far and wide.

After taking the enormous Agua Caliente win in the United States, Hollywood wanted to put the horse on camera.
But he would die before they got the chance.

Phar Lap would not be forgotten.

With Telford's blessing, Phar Lap's skeleton went to Dominion Museum in New Zealand where he was born, his legendary heart went to the National Institute of Anatomy in Canberra and his hide went to the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne.

In 2000, Phar Lap's hide was moved to the new Melbourne Museum.

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