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Pictured above is Night Raid (in stall), Phar Lap's sire. Entreaty his dam on the right, with foal-sibling to Phar Lap and another sibling to the left.

Born on October 4, 1926, New Zealand, Phar Lap, which is tai for 'lightening', was sired by Night Raid, and out of a mare named Entreaty. He was brought to Australia as a two year year by Harry Telford, trainer for American owner Dave Davis, who purchased him for a mere 160 guineas ($336.00 U.S.) Davis had so little hope in the 17.1 hand high chestnut that was gangly, skinny and covered in warts, that he leased Phar Lap to Telford for three years. It's turned out to be an excellent thing for him that Telford had faith in the straggling Phar Lap.

Tom Woodcock, right, and Phar Lap with another groom.

Tom and 'Bobby'.

Of all people in Phar Lap's life, Tommy Woodcock had the most effect on him. Phar Lap or 'Bobby' as Tom called him, grew to love his strapper and groom so much that he refused to eat unless Tommy was with him. They created games and played with each other, and seldom were they apart. Tommy was known to bring out the best in the big chestnut.

Phar Lap carrying Harry Telford's son, Gerald.

Phar Lap was a gentle giant as well, shown well by these photos.

Phar Lap was unplaced in his first four races in 1929. His first win was on 27 April at Rosehill near Sydney. After another four races in which he was unplaced, he came second in the Sydney Tattersalls Chelmsford Stakes on 14 September. From then on he was unplaced only once more - in the Melbourne Cup of 1931. Phar Lap won some of the most prestigious races in Australia, including four in one week during the Spring Racing Carnival of 1930. From September 1929 he started as a favourite in all but one of his races.

Phar Lap was a large horse, 17 hands high, with powerful leg muscles and a strong heart, which after his death was discovered to be one of the largest ever found in a racehorse. Although he was known as a stayer, a horse that performs well in races over a long distance, he was equally as successful at sprint races.

The champion's success did not make him popular with everyone. Because so many people put their money on Phar Lap, whenever he won the bookmakers had to pay a fortune. Someone tried to shoot the horse early on Derby Day, November 1 1930 - possibly a bookmaker. As Tom Woodcock led him from Caulfield Racecourse back to his stables after track work, a car pulled alongside them. Woodcock pushed Phar Lap against a fence, using himself and his pony as a shield as shots were fired from the car. Although the pony threw Woodcock, he managed to hold onto Phar Lap as the car sped away. Phar Lap was unhurt and went on to win the Melbourne Stakes at Flemington that day. The identity of the gunman was never discovered.

Phar Lap winning the Melbourne Cup.

Three days later Phar Lap easily won the Melbourne Cup, even though his handicap of 62.5 kg meant he was carrying over 4 kg more than any other four-year-old horse had ever carried in a Cup. In the 1931 Melbourne Cup he carried 68 kg. This proved too much for him, and he finished eighth in his last Australian race.

Phar Lap winning the Agua Caliente handicap.

His next race was the Agua Caliente Handicap at the Agua Caliente Jockey Club near Tijuana in Mexico. With Tom Woodcock as trainer, Phar Lap travelled to America by ship, with his own exercise enclosure and sand-box. Despite his long sea journey and a badly injured hoof, Phar Lap won the race, in record time for the track.

Phar Lap was resting at a private ranch near Menlo Park in California while his owner, Davis, negotiated further race appearances and even a series of films about Phar Lap. Early on 5 April 1932, Woodcock found the horse looking ill. His temperature was above normal and he was in great pain. At midday Phar Lap haemorrhaged and died. Woodcock threw himself on the horse and cried.

Australians and Americans were stunned by the horse's death. The Australian Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons called it a 'great tragedy'. An autopsy found that Phar Lap's stomach and intestines were inflamed, suggesting possible poisoning. Soon rumours were circulating that the champion had been deliberately poisoned.

Investigation of the ranch showed that some trees had recently been sprayed with a lead - arsenate insecticide. It was possible that some of the deadly spray had drifted onto grass that Phar Lap had eaten. A second autopsy suggested that Phar Lap had died of a 'colicky condition' (bad stomach pains), possibly from eating damp feed. Many people, however, continued to believe that Phar Lap had been poisoned.

In 1989 some racing people claimed that Tom Woodcock had accidentally killed the horse by giving him a double dose of Fowler's Solution, a tonic containing arsenic given to horses to stimulate their appetites. Forensic scientists offered to test Phar Lap's hide and hair for arsenic, but as arsenic was probably used to help preserve the hide, the tests might not have brought us any closer to discovering the real cause of his death.

Phar Lap on display at the Victoria Museum, Australia.

Phar Lap's heart.

Phar Lap was stuffed, and is now part of the most popular exhibit in the Victoria Museum, Australia. His skeleton is in the National Museum of New Zealand. Phar Lap's abnormally large heart, weighing 6.2 kilograms (14 pounds-the average for a horse is 4.0 kilograms), is a popular object in the National Historical Collection, a testament of the great affection in which Phar Lap was, and still is, held by the Australian people.

In 1983, the movie Phar Lap was born. It featured Tom Burlinson as Tom Woodcock, Ron Liebman as Dave Davis, and a giant chestnut 10 year old thoroughbred gelding named Towering Inferno owned by Heath Harris, as Phar Lap. Coincidentally, Phar Lap means lightning in tai, and Towering Inferno was killed by lightning on April 15, 1999. The real Tommy Woodcock played a trainer in the movie. The movie made thousands cry and made those aware, who were not, of the brilliant Australian champion. The soundtrack is now available with beautiful music from the film. A sample was played when you opened this page.

Scenes from Phar Lap, the movie.

Tom Burlinson, Towering Inferno and the real Tommy Woodcock.

Tom & Tom

Original Movie Cover

Another newer version

I get a lot of questions on where to purchase the Phar Lap movie online. The best place I know of right now is EBAY. I have seen quite a few up for auction there. You have to fight to get one though. also check out and


Museum Victoria
Tom Burlinson: The Official Fansite
Tom Burlinson: Official Site
Pics N' Tricks