The horse, the myth, the legend

Seventy-five years after his death, Phar Lap remains Australia’s most famous racehorse. In the Depression years of the 1930s, the big-hearted chestnut gelding was Australia’s pride and joy as he won race after race. Phar Lap’s greatest year was 1930, when he won a string of five races in the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, including the Melbourne Cup. On 5 April 1932 Phar Lap died suddenly of unknown causes, only fifteen days after winning the prestigious Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico. 

Copyright records in the National Archives reveal that Phar Lap’s accomplishments in life, and the mystery surrounding his death, have been a source of inspiration for scores of songs, poems and books. The song featured here was received by the Copyright Office on 8 April 1932, just three days after Phar Lap died in the arms of his adoring carer and trainer, Tommy Woodcock. Mr R Kreymborg of Melbourne penned a sentimental ode to farewell his hero, to be sung to the tune of the Irish rebel song 'The wearing of the green'.

The song's lyrics reflect the feeling of disbelief shared by many Australians: 'We really can't believe it yet that Phar Lap's lying dead'. Suspicions arose that the champion horse might have been deliberately poisoned. Veterinary science of the day failed to offer a conclusive explanation for his sudden death, fuelling the rumours. It wasn't until 2000 that specialists re-examined Phar Lap's autopsy reports and concluded that he probably died as the result of a bacterial infection.

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    Jockey Billy Elliot on Phar Lap a week before the Agua Caliente Handicap in 1932
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    'Good bye, Phar Lap, Good bye', submitted for copyright protection by R Kreymborg, 8 April 1932
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    Official Program for Melbourne Cup Day, 4 November 1930
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018