Geoff Armstrong and Peter Thompson
Of course, there is Phar Lap, the one and only, a freak, a horse of the
— AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Paterson wrote these words in October 1931. But even he, avid admirer of the
champion that he was, could not possibly have imagined that seven decades after
Phar Lap’s final race the horse remains a universal hero, known to all as the
greatest and bravest racehorse Australia has ever known.
Today, the world-famous Phar Lap exhibit at Melbourne’s Museum Victoria, featuring
the faithfully restored, mounted chestnut hide of the champion,
is one of that city’s most popular attractions. Back in 1929, Phar
Lap was a gangly gelding born and bought cheaply in New Zealand,
rejected by his American owner and trained by an Aussie battler
who could hardly feed his family yet agreed to feed the horse.
His best mate was Tommy Woodcock, a young horseman who over time
would himself become a racing folk hero. By the end of March 1932,
Phar Lap had built an extraordinary reputation on both sides of
the Pacific. A strong case can be put that he was the best there
ever was; certainly, there has never been a champion who so consistently
and clinically made hacks of all his rivals.
Phar Lap, by Geoff Armstrong and Peter Thompson, is the most complete
account of Phar Lap’s life ever published. Produced with the full support of
Museum Victoria, it studies in depth the many mysteries of his life, including
the infamous shooting that occurred just days before his great Melbourne Cup
triumph. It brings to life the characters of the racetrack — young and old,
rich and poor, honest and shifty — who trod the Phar Lap stage, and examines
the way an emerging media played its part in the building of the legend. It
features the definitive analysis of his previously unexplained death in North
America. And it explains why he is more than simply a racehorse of history, more
Australian idol or icon.
This unique tribute includes a compelling biography of the champion’s
racing career, plus contributions from Paterson, Bob Hawke, Damon Runyon,
respected Sydney racing writer Bill Whittaker and the staff of Museum Victoria.
These words sit beside a vast array of photos and memorabilia — including
priceless material from the archives of the Museum Victoria, the Victorian
Racing Museum and the Australian Jockey Club. It is a book for more than just
racing enthusiasts. It will appeal to any Australian who has ever placed a
dollar on the Melbourne Cup, and hoped their thoroughbred had ‘a heart as big
as Phar Lap’.
No horse ever has, none ever will.