Friday, January 16, 2009

Phar Lap for Real!

Phar Lap for real!...
For anyone who hasn't watched the movie Phar Lap, I highly recommend that you do! While you might not be disposed to trust my judgment after last night's posted video (of Katty Perry) *ahem* I can promise that this movie is worth watching.

Phar Lap is the true story of the legendary Australian race horse, Phar Lap (who is often referred to as "the Aussie Seasbuiscut" because he went showing little promise in ever winning a race to being nearly unable to loose one!) The movie highlights the love between his groom (Tommy Woodcock) and this great red horse much as Seabuiscut highlighted the love of Red Pollard for his little bay.

The movie's ending is no secret but I will still issue a ***spoiler alert! ***

Phar Lap was shipped to US to race in the high states world of American horse racing but never saw a race there (he did race once in Mexico). It has been long suspected that he was poisoned to death by the American Mob (who wanted to protect their bookkeepers from the threat Phar Lap posed.)

(photos: Phar Lap's stuffed hide!)

Phar Lap, for his great race record and dramatic death, became a national icon (quite literally as he is actually featured in the Australian Citizenship test and his mounted hide is on display at the Melbourne Museum, his heart at the National Museum of Australia and his skeleton in a New Zealand!!) The curiousity over his cause of death remained a topic of interest even some 75 years afterward. Many tests were done on his hair and tissue but researchers were unable to separate the chemicals used in preserving his hide and heart vs. those that actually killed him. Also, it was common for race horses to be given small doses of Arsenic (as a blood thinner) a practice Phar Laps trainer was known to employ and so the actual dose of Arsenic (not just the presence of it) would be needed to determine it as a cause of death.

It was not until June 2008 that researchers were finally able to put this mystery to rest! Using some new high-flutin' technology they were able to test six hairs from Phar Laps mane and determine that 30 to 40 hours before his death Phar Lap ingested a massive dose of Arsenic! How cool is that! (that they figured it out...not that he was poisoned...*sheepish grin*....

(How can you tell that I am a fan of Cold Case Files.)

(photo: Phar Lap's heart)

I actually caught a program on TV that told of another interesting fact about Phar Lap and the great American race horse, Secretariat. Scientists have shown that they both carried the same genetic condition (that increases the size of their heart to almost double that of a normal horse) called "X-Factor"! This gene was passed down through a female line that traces back to a racehorse named Eclipse (foaled in England in 1764). While Phar Lap and Secretariat are the extreme cases (there is much debate about the actual weight of Secretariats heart because it was never weighed at his autopsy but the vet, on seeing a sixteen pound heart, guessed Secretariats to be around 22.) Other enlarged "X-Factor" hearts have been found in many other great race horses since.... actually some famous AQHA legendary racing sires like Easy Jet, Azure Te, Dash for Cash, Go Man Go, Three Bars, Top Deck, Leo and many more!

(Photo: Secretariat winning Belmont Stakes by over 30 lengths!)

One last little tidbit... did you know that both Secretariat's jockey (Ron Turcotte) and Red Pollard (Seabuscuits jockey) were good ol' Canadian boys!!

THERE!!! NOOOOOO youtube videos! Whew! *wipes brow* That was difficult. I was going to post some actual footage of Seabuiscut, Phar Lap and Secretariat... but I shall resist!


  1. I loved the movie Phar Lap when I was a kid, save for the ending of course. Wanted to marry Tom Burlinson when I was young too because I figured if he did Man From Snowy River and Phar Lap back to back, he must love horses. Turns out he does of course.

    I have to say, although I can't enlarge the picture, that's one of the best taxidermy jobs on a horse I've ever seen. I knew the thing about Secretariat's heart, but I did not realize that Phar Lap had the same thing. BTW, of all the Secretariat mini bios I've watched over the years, one of the best was ESPN's SportsCentury retrospective of the 100 greatest N. American athletes of the 20th century they did leading up to the year 2000. Secretariat was #35. To put that in perspective, Mickey Mantle was voted 37, Pete Sampras 48, Billie Jean King 59, Cy Young 77, and Bobby Hull 82.

    Willie Shoemaker (The Shoe was my fav as a kid), and Eddie Arcaro are on there too as #'s 57 & 66 respectively. Incidentally, Man O' War is #84 and Citation is #97 and I highly recommend that you watch each of the three horse's piece in descending order if you can find them in the tv listings. Obviously the footage of Man O' War is limited, but some of the Citation stuff will blow you away as much as the Secretariat Belmont.

    Here's the list, but try to at least watch the Citation video and then the Secretariat one if you can. I guarantee you'll weep at both. Frankly, I don't trust anyone who can watch the footage of Secretariat winning the Belmont without crying. I know even though I've seen it a hundred times I break down like an idiot every time I hear Chick Anderson say, "Secretariat is moving like a TREMENDOUS machine!" I'm getting choked up just thinking about it. I'm such a geek.

    Well, I can't find the full SportsCentury show on each of them online, but the portion of Secretariat's just on the Triple Crown is on youtube in two parts; the Derby and Preakness, and The Belmont. Sorry this turned into a greatest race horses of all time comment, but I do get geeked up at stuff like this like some other people. :)

  2. Oh, I love that movie - well, except for the end, of course!

    I even spelled my geldings name with a PH as a kid! His name was Farley and my Dad painted me a sign for his stall door with it spelled "Pharley". Too cute. He wasn't a racehorse, just a half-arab. In my mind he was the next best thing!

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. You are an endless wealth of equine information. And I love it! Be it breeds, disciplines, or the actual horses themselves, you never cease to amaze me. Keep 'em comin'!

    (And I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed laughing my butt off at that Katty Perry video!)

  4. Phar Lap was one great horse,I liked the movie too. Nice series on movie horses, very interesting.

  5. I actually kinda miss the youtube videos you post-they are always entertaining!

    Visit my mustang blog, I've got a little something for you :)

  6. Water bearer- if you are a geek then we all are! I loved the movie- was inspired by the story of Phar-Lap and repulsed by the inhumanity of some people.
    I just love a heroic Horse story- Black Gold by Marquerite Henry was the first one I ever read as a child, but certainly not the last.

  7. I LOVE the story of Phar-Lap. Who doesn't like a little mystery now and then? Of course, it is never okay to kill someone/something like that though!

  8. I've never seen that movie about Phar Lap, but I will now. Fascinating stuff!

    And Wow! His heart was ginormous!!!


  9. I've never seen the movie - but think I will have to now.

    Eclipse was one the first "Great" race horses - I have read about him the first book I got my hands on that actually had some eye witness accounts of people watching him run in it gave me chills.

    Just like to this day watch Secretariat win the Belmont brings tears to my eyes.

  10. Ha I just read Water Bearer's comment. I am just like that and I agree with the Citation footage.

    There is only a little tiny bit of footage of Man O'War running - but its is VERY impressive.

  11. Hi there, I found this post while googling Phar Lap. You might be interested in checking out the heart's webpage at the National Museum of Australia:



  12. A bit of trivia for you - did you know that the horse that played Pharlap in the movie, Towering Inferno, was struck by lightning and killed in his paddock in 1999?


    1. Whoop de doo Susie, is this a statement or a question? God damn.

  13. Im sorry but Phar Lap was a New Zealand horse. He was sent to Australia!!!!
    And Secretariat was the most amazing race horse ever. Have you seen the movie?? if you haven't get it!!!! Amazing!!!! <3

    1. By the way I live in NZ soo yeah id kno

    2. whoop de doo anonymous, god damn.