PHAR LAP, A RACING LEGEND
Museum Victoria is famous the world over for its modern architectural designs a midst the grandeur presence of the Royal Exhibition Buildings of 1881.
To the Australian man in the street, Museum Victoria is better known as the final resting place of an Australian icon, Phar Lap, Australia's most celebrated race horse.
Despite the fact that Phar Lap has been dead for over 80 years, the Big Red is idolized by thousands of Australians, most whom were not even born at his time of track domination.
In a racing career in Australia of less than three years, Phar Lap, bred and raised in New Zealand, had won more stake money than any other horse in either country at the time of his death in 1932.The Australian Turf was dominated by this thoroughbred freak, who won 37 times in 51 starts and started favorite in 41 races out of 42.
To racing officials he was just too good. They changed the weight-for-age scale in a bid to make it easier for other horses to win. It didn’t work. The last two times Phar Lap failed to win, he was sick. On both occasions trainer Harry Telford had ignored the pleas of strapper Tommy Woodcock not to run him.
Between September 1929 and March 1932, Phar Lap ran 41 races over a variety of distances. He won an astonishing 36 of them.
When Phar Lap had nothing more to conquer in Australia, he was taken to America to continue his winning career. Less than 3 months after reaching the USA, he was dead.
Nobody knows with complete certainty as to why he died although theories in his sudden loss have lingered through the decades.
When Phar Laps life gushed from his body soon after midday on Tuesday April 5 1932 at Menlo Park California, the most sensational turf story of the century began to unfold. At 3.42 pm on that day, news of his death sang out over the wires to Australia,,,”Phar Lap, the Australian champion race horse died today”
The day of his death the Big Red had been placed on a sledge and dragged out into the stable yard by one of the farm work horses, whilst Sydney graduate veterinarian William Nielsen and San Francisco veterinarian Caesar Masoero performed a preliminary autopsy.
That same day an undescribed local taxidermist began to prepare the large chestnut hide for preservation, an undertaking later brought to a successful conclusion by undoubtedly the best taxidermy artists in America, brothers Louis Paul and Leslie Jonas of Jonas Brothers fame.
David Davis, with the approval of Harry Telford back home, decided on the following division of the big red legacy. His heart would go to the National Institute of Anatomy in Canberra (now the National Museum); the skeleton would go to the Dominion Museum in New Zealand, Phar Lap's country of birth; and the hide, the most prized part, would go to the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne, where Phar Lap had won many of his richest races.