The Joy of Museums

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Phar Lap

Phar Lap mount

Phar Lap was a champion thoroughbred racehorse whose winning achievements captured the public’s imagination during the early years of the Great Depression. Phar Lap is considered to be a national icon in both Australia and New Zealand.

The name Phar Lap derives from Thai / Chinese word for lightning or ‘sky flash’. In a four year racing career, Phar Lap won a total of 37 of 51 races he entered. Including the Melbourne Cup in 1930, then in 1931 he won 14 races in a row. Followed by 32 wins out of 35 races.

Phar Lap

Phar Lap died in controversial circumstances during an American visit. He was found in severe pain and a high temperature a few hours before his death from haemorrhaging. . An autopsy revealed that Phar Lap’s stomach and intestines were inflamed, leading many to believe the horse had been deliberately poisoned. The conspiracy theory was that Phar Lap was killed on the orders of U.S. gangsters, who feared the winning champion would inflict big losses on their illegal bookmakers. The controversy continues to this day.

Phar Lap has been honoured with a life-sized bronze statue at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne (home of the Melbourne Cup) and has had numerous street named after him in Australia, New Zealand and California. He was honoured on a postage stamp issued by Australia Post and has featured in Australian citizenship tests.

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                          Phar Lap
  • What:                        Racecourse
  • Sex:                            Gelding (male)
  • Foaled:                     1926 – New Zealand
  • Death:                      1932 – US
  • Colour:                      Chestnut

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“There is nothing more Australian than spending time in somebody else’s country.”  Australian Anon

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Photo Credit: 1)  By Andrew (Flickr: The MURDER of Phar Lap.) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Charles Daniel Pratt, 1893-1968 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons