Phar Lap – Sky Flash

Day 181 of Colourisation Project – November 4

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

‘He lived fast, died young and left a beautiful corpse.’  No, not James Dean, I’m talking about Phar Lap, the champion Thoroughbred racehorse and winner of the prestigious 1930 Melbourne Cup.

Phar Lap Bef & Aft

Photographer C D Pratt – Phar Lap with Jockey, Jim Pike 1930 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

It was exactly 82 years ago, that Phar Lap, a chestnut gelding nicknamed, Big Red won the Melbourne Cup on this day, Nov 4, 1930. In that year, Phar Lap ran and won on all four days of the Flemington carnival.

He dominated the Australian racing scene and then easily won the world’s richest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico in 1932, in track-record time.

That was to be his last race because only 16 days later, the world was mourning his mysterious death in San Francisco. Phar Lap was only five years old. To this day, mystery still surrounds his death with many suspecting foul play at the hands of American gangsters.

His legendary status in thoroughbred history remains a benchmark against which other racehorses are measured. His lifetime record was 37 wins from 51 starts, including the 1930 Melbourne Cup, carrying a massive 62.5 kilograms.


Following his death, Phar Lap’s heart was donated to the Institute of Anatomy in Canberra while his skeleton went to New Zealand’s National Museum in Wellington. Currently his heart is stored at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Phar Lap’s heart was exceptionally large, weighing 6.2 kg (13.6 lbs), compared with a normal horse’s heart at 3.2 kg. However some people believe the heart to be a fake.  According to the daughter of Dr Walker Neilson, the government veterinarian who performed the first post-mortem on Phar Lap, her father claimed the heart was necessarily cut to pieces during the autopsy, and that the heart on display is that of a draughthorse. Nonetheless, it is still one of the most popular items at the Museum.

After four and half months of preparations of the hide by firm of expert taxidermists in New York, the Jonas Brothers, Phar Lap’s stuffed body was placed in the Australia Gallery at the old Melbourne Museum. Today, Phar Lap’s mounted hide, a life-like tribute to his greatness is on display at the Melbourne Museum.

Foaled in New Zealand, trained and raced in Australia, Phar Lap is a national icon in both countries. A $500,000 life-sized bronze memorial to Phar Lap was erected in November 2009 near his birthplace at Timaru, New Zealand.

According to the Museum of Victoria, Aubrey Ping, a medical student at the University of Sydney, suggested ‘farlap’ as the horse’s name, said to have derived from the Chinese/Thai word for ‘Lightning,’ literally ‘sky flash.’   Telford the trainer liked the name, but wanted a seven letter word so changed the F to PH and split the word in two in keeping with the dominant naming pattern of race winners.

With the race about to be run here in Melbourne in an hours time, I’m putting my money on horse No 7, Seismos only because that’s my lucky number. Hope you all pick a winner!


Goodbye, Phar Lap, Goodbye!

[A traditional Australian song, by R Kreymborg. Sung to the tune Wearing of the Green]

You all know a mighty racehorse,
And how he won his fame;
He was the wonder of the turf,
And Phar Lap was his name.

With that well-known jockey,
Jim Pike upon his back,
You’d say goodnight, it’s quite all right
When Phar Lap’s on the track.

No doubt he was a wonder —
The best we’ve ever seen,
In any land or any clime,
In or off the green.

And when he crossed the ocean
He made Australia’s name;
With Billy Elliott on his back,
They surely played the game.

There’s no doubt that all we Aussies
Are proud of this great horse.
There never was a better steed
That ever took the course.

Tom Woodcock should be mentioned,
The one who trained this mount
To win so many thousands,
It was getting hard to count.

But what about the owners —
The way they nursed their pet?
He was the Daddy of them all,
They’ve never beat him yet!

I was talking to a friend of mine
I met the other day,
He said to me, “Well, did you see
Where Phar Lap’s passed away?”

“Well, I really can’t believe it,”
I then unto him said.
“It must be quite a joke, that’s all,
Why, Phar Lap isn’t dead!”

When Australia heard the news
She sadly shook her head;
We really can’t believe it yet
That Phar Lap’s lying dead.

Now that we have lost him,
Our champion’s gone to rest,
We bless the day he went away,
His owners thought it best.

We got the news in Melbourne,
And all felt pretty sad
To hear of Phar Lap’s sudden death,
It really was too bad.

But, along with dear old Carbine,
His history cannot die,
As if he’d lived to tell the tale
They’d know the reason why!

Well, I trust that all who loved him
Just wish the same as I —
God bless our hero of the turf,
Goodbye, Phar Lap, Goodbye!

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