Posts Tagged ‘southern hemisphere’

Using history as a guide, if I was shopping for a potential champion, I’d be looking for an “ugly duckling.”


NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr. The colt was royally bred, but so tiny that E.P. Taylor failed to sell him as a yearling. In fact, potential buyers laughed when he was paraded out with the other yearlings!

Of course, none of the thoroughbreds discussed in this article were ugly. Not literally. But metaphorically, there was something about each one of them that hearkens back to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale: they seemed to be ugly ducklings but what no-one saw at the time was that they were not ducklings at all. Some weren’t good-looking enough. Others took too much time to come into their own. And still others were waiting for a special someone to come along, someone who looked into their eyes and saw who they really were.

The individuals whose stories appear here are only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” — VAULT readers will certainly be able to name many others who fall into this category.

And it all adds up to this: If there’s any “secret” to finding yourself another Frankel or American Pharoah or Black Caviar or Treve, it has to do with looking “under the feathers.”


Perhaps we can’t help it. Horses are beautiful animals and thoroughbreds can be exquisite. And no matter how often horse folk remind us that beauty and talent don’t necessarily go hand in hand, it’s all too easy to ignore when you’ve got a plain bay standing next to a magnificent chestnut…….


KINCSEM (filly, 1874-1887)

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters.

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters. But it was painted in hindsight, when the world already had learned that she was incomparable, making one doubt its absolute accuracy.

She may well have been the greatest thoroughbred of them all, winning 54 times in as many starts on two different continents. Kincsem took on all comers and was so devastatingly good that she also ran in 6 walkovers when no-one would run against her.

But at her birth, she was declared by her owner-breeder, Ernest Von Blaskovich, to be the ugliest foal that he had ever seen — and most agreed with him. When Von Blaskovich offered the majority of that year’s crop of foals to Baron Orczy, the latter purchased all but two — and one of the rejects was Kincsem.

Here is one fairly accurate description of a thoroughbred that was so brilliant she actually paused to graze before taking off after the others, only to win going away:

She was as long as a boat and as lean as a hungry leopard … she had a U-neck and mule ears and enough daylight under her sixteen hands to flood a sunset … she had a tail like a badly-used mop … she was lazy, gangly, shiftless … she was a daisy-eating, scenery-loving, sleepy-eyed and slightly pot-bellied hussy …” (Beckwith in “Step And Go Together”)

As a broodmare, Kincsem was pretty decent, although she never duplicated herself. But through one of her daughters, she comes down to us today in the bloodlines of Coolmore’s fine colt, Camelot. In her native Hungary, Kincsem is a national hero and a film based on her life (although it appears that the mare isn’t its central protagonist) is due for release in 2016.

For more on this remarkable thoroughbred:


And on the film:



IMP (filly, 1894-1909)

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.


She was the 1899 HOTY and twice won the honours for Champion Handicap Mare (1899 & 1900). She had her own theme song (below): “My Coal Black Lady.” And she was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1965.

But when she came into the world, the tiny daughter of Fondling (1886) by the stallion, Wagner (1882) was looked upon poorly by her owner-breeder because she wasn’t pretty and her conformation showed not the slightest hint of promise. But her owner-breeder, D.R. Harness of Chillicothe, Ohio kept her anyway, perhaps because the fact she was bred in the purple overrode his misgivings. Her ancestry included direct descent from the Darley Arabian, Eclipse and Lexington.

Imp raced an unthinkable number of times: 171. But she won 62 times, with 35 seconds and 29 thirds and raced more against the boys than those of her own sex. She set track records from 1 3/4 to 1 1/16.

By the time she was retired, at the age of eight, she was a national figure.

For more about Imp:



PHAR LAP (gelding, 1926 – 1932)

“Bobby” as he was called by those closest to him, arrived in the stable of trainer Harry Telford looking like a very, very sorry excuse for a racehorse. Which, in turn, precipitated the first crisis in Phar Lap’s biography, unbeknownst to the scrawny, dishevelled colt who had been born in New Zealand and was a son of the promising sire, Night Raid. Trainer Telford had bought Bobby for owner, David J. Davis, who rushed over excitedly to see his latest acquisition. After a moment of silence, Davis went ballistic. The compromise was that Bobby would be leased to Telford for a period of three years, the trainer covering all costs and the owner getting one third of the colt’s earnings. Assuming he could run.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

The rest, as they say, is history: Bobby aka The Red Terror aka Phar Lap (meaning “lightning/bolt of lightning/lights up the sky” in the Thai language) was a champion. His great heart, together with his victories, moved Australia and New Zealand — and the racing world– to fall in love. And, in 2016, we are still in love with him:

Bobby’s risky run @ The Melbourne Cup in 1930 should have been a movie:



WAR ADMIRAL ( colt, 1934-1959)

“Sons of Man O’ War ought to look different,” Mr. Riddle decided, as he looked at Brushup’s new foal. It was a bay colt with no real pizzazz to it …. and it was tiny. Riddle found it impossible to hope for much from the little fellow, who much-resembled his dam. And Brushup had been hopeless as a runner, pretty as she was. Riddle tried, in vain, to hand the colt over to his partner, Walter Jeffords Sr., but when Jeffords refused, it was decided that Brushup’s boy would stay in the Riddle stable until he showed what, if anything, he had as a runner.

War Admiral [2006 Calendar, Nov]


By the time he was a three year-old, Riddle had learned that even though The Admiral was the size of a pony (15.2h) he did, indeed, carry his sire’s blood.

And that blood would show in not only in War Admiral’s Triple Crown, but also in the breeding shed. As a sire, his contribution to the breed was as definitive as was the impact of sons and daughters like Busanda, Busher, Bee Mac, Searching, War Jeep and Blue Peter on the sport itself. War Admiral led the general sire list in 1945, the 2 year-old sire list in 1948 and the broodmare sire list in 1962 and again in 1964.

Although The Admiral’s sons were not influential as sires, both Busanda and Searching made a huge impact. Their descendants include the likes of Swaps, Buckpasser, Numbered Account, Iron Liege, Hoist the Flag, Gun Bow, Striking and Crafty Admiral, as well as two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Other descendants of note from the War Admiral line include Dr. Fager, Alysheba, Cigar and, most recently, Zenyatta.

To this day, breeders point with pride to War Admiral in the lineage of their thoroughbreds. What the name connotes is timeless, synonymous with the very essence of the thoroughbred.

For more on War Admiral:



ZENYATTA (filly, 2004)

As the tale is now famously told, the yearling daughter of Street Cry did not look her best in the sales ring as a yearling, due largely to a case of ringworm. But David Ingordo could see beyond all that. And Ann Moss has recounted how she and the filly seemed to “just click” at first meeting at Keeneland, just as though Zenyatta had chosen her.

When the hammer fell, the filly had been acquired by the Mosses. But she was not their only purchase that year and shortly after their yearlings arrived at Mayberry Farm, they received a call from Jeanne Mayberry. Jeanne had this to say,”Either you bought yourselves some very slow yearlings or else that Street Cry filly is very, very good. Because when they’re out together running, she leaves them all behind as though they aren’t even moving.”

Prophetic words.

But fast as Zenny was, it took time and patience to “get her right,” as the Mosses’ Racing Manager, Dottie Ingordo Sherriffs, has said. But when trainer, John Sherriffs, did get her right, the result was the birth of an American racing legend:

Retired with a record of 19 wins and 1 second place in 20 starts, Zenyatta’s fans have not diminished in the slightest. At this writing, Zenyatta is the only filly/mare to have ever won two different Breeders’ Cup races and the only filly/mare to ever have won the BC Classic.



In any institution, whether a school or a sport like horse racing, it works out a lot better if everyone develops in the same, linear way. Couple that with our love affair with speed — intelligence being linked to quickness and, in the case of thoroughbreds, ability with running fast enough to win, preferably at two — and you have the “cracks” through which genius and greatness all-too-frequently slip ……..


EXTERMINATOR (gelding, 1915 -1945)



EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

The story of “Old Bones” is famous. He’s as legendary a figure in American thoroughbred racing as Man O’ War — and some say he was the best of them all. High praise for a big, coarse gelding who was bought as a rabbity for a flashy colt named Sun Briar, the hope of  Willis Sharpe Kilmer for the 1918 Kentucky Derby.

The man who first saw under the surface of the lanky chestnut with the deep, dark eyes was trainer Henry McDaniel. It was he who studied Bones and Sun Briar as they worked, noting the intelligence of the former at dealing with his moody running mate. And when Sun Briar couldn’t run in the Derby — and after considerable lobbying by McDaniel and Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs — Kilmer agreed to let the ugliest of his horses run instead. And so it was that Exterminator stepped on to a muddy track and transformed, in three minutes, from an ugly duckling to a Swan King.

To read more about Exterminator: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/a-collectors-mystery-exterminator-and-bob-dorman/


DISCOVERY (colt, 1931- 1958)


Discovery, a brilliant runner and outstanding broodmare sire, won Horse of the Year in 1935 over Omaha. Discovery appears 4X5X4 in Ruffian's pedigree.

DISCOVERY on the track. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

The son of Display had a brilliant, dazzling chestnut coat and lots of chrome. Born at Walter J. Salmon’s Mereworth Farm and owned by Adolphe Pons, the colt was impressively bred and ran head-first into the accompanying expectations. Predictably, he disappointed, winning only 2 of 13 starts as a two year-old.

At three he appeared again, looking fit enough. However, among the 3 year-olds that year was a colt named Cavalcade, who had already beaten Discovery the year before. In the Derby, Discovery chased Cavalcade home; in the Preakness, he finished third to High Quest and Cavalcade.

But Discovery was just getting going. He went on that same year to win the Brooklyn and Whitney Handicaps, and then set a world record time for 1 3/16 miles in the Rhode Island Handicap.

But his finest years were at four and five. In 1935, the colt won 11 of 19 starts, carrying an average of 131 lbs., gaining him the nickname “The Iron Horse.” Retrospectively named 1935 Horse of the Year (over Triple Crown winner, Omaha) and throughout 1936, Discovery’s winning ways continued. Of his Whitney win, the New York Times wrote that the chestnut ran “…the most decisive victory to be scored in a big American stake in many years.”

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

As a sire, it was Discovery’s daughters who gave him purchase on immortality, producing the great Native Dancer, Bold Ruler and Bed O’ Roses.


SEABISCUIT (colt, 1933-1947)

Rejected outright as a colt foal because of his size and conformation, the little son of Hard Tack languished as a runner until he hooked up with trainer Tom Smith, who could see right through the disguise. In Smith’s hands, “The Biscuit” blossomed into a horse with fire in his blood. It was the Depression Era: a good time for a hero to come along. Especially one who had once been “not good enough,” through no fault of his own. He battled back from defeat. He battled back from injury. And he taught America how to look a setback straight in the eye — and vanquish it.

Enjoy this rare footage of The Biscuit at work and play:


RED RUM (gelding, 1965- 1995)



RED RUM at work on the beach. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

RED RUM at work on the sands of Southport, England. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun


“Beloved”  is probably the first response when someone speaks his name. Or “Immortal.” Something like that.

In its long, distinguished history the National Hunt has known many great horses, but none who rose to the standard of Red Rum. He was, quite simply, the greatest steeplechaser who ever lived.

By the time Donald “Ginger” McCain got his hands on the bay gelding, he had won a few one-mile races over the flat before being passed from one training yard to another. The horse who had descended from the great St. Simon, and whose name originated from the last three letters of his dam (Mared) and sire (Quorum) was never going to amount to much, running in cheap races with modest purses.

GINGER McCAIN WITH RED RUM PICTURED AT HIS STABLES BEHIND SECOND HAND CAR SHOWROOM. SOUTHPORT 1975. pic by George Selwyn,119 Torriano Ave,London NW5 2RX.T:+44 (0)207 267 6929 M: 07967 030722 email: george@georgeselwyn.co.uk Vat no:3308110 05

Ginger McCain with RED RUM, pictured at his stables behind his used car dealership in Southport, 1975. Photo and copyright, George Selwyn.

The first thing that McCain set out to do was to rehabilitate the gelding, who suffered from the incurable disease, pedal osteitis, a disease of the pedal bone. (This was discovered after the trainer paid a goodly sum for “Rummy” on behalf of owner, Noel le Mare.) The “cure” was swimming and long works on the beaches of Southport. And it worked miracles. Red Rum blossomed into a tough, rugged individual. (It should be noted that Ginger adored Rummy and the horse was never put at-risk in any of his races, unlike the situation when he was running on the flat.)

The result was not one, but three, wins in the Aintree Grand National, arguably the greatest test of any horse’s courage and stamina in the world. His first win came at a time when the Grand National was flirting with extinction. It needed a hero and it got one, in the form of a thoroughbred once-destined to run on the flat until he could run no more, and a used car salesman who “also” trained National Hunt horses — and saw something quite different in his Champion’s eye:


JOHN HENRY (gelding, 1975-2007)

“For the first two years of his life, John Henry had been peddled like a cheap wristwatch.” (Steve Haskin, in John Henry in the Thoroughbred Legends series)

JOHN HENRY at work.

JOHN HENRY at work.

To say he was “difficult” doesn’t even come close: for what ever reason, John had a nasty disposition, despite his workmanlike performances on the track. It would take trainers (and there were many) like Phil Amato and Ron McNally to work their way around temperament issues to gain the gelding’s trust before the John Henry we now know and admire emerged.

In his 3 year-old season, there were glimmers of ability. But from 1980 to his final win, at the ripe old age of nine, John Henry turned out to be the stuff of greatness. And not only was it his “arrival” as a turf star: John’s rags-to-riches story captivated fans who even today, almost nine years after his death, still revere his memory. Indeed, for many, John Henry is one of a pantheon of superstars, right up there with Exterminator, Man O’ War, Secretariat, Ruffian and American Pharoah.

By the time he was retired to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, John had twice won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (1981, 1984), with 39 wins in 83 starts and earnings of over six million dollars USD. His 1981 election as Horse of the Year was unanimous and at the time, unprecedented for a nominee to receive all votes cast. In addition, John was inducted into the American Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1990.


ISTABRAQ (gelding, 1992)

Unlike John Henry (above), whose bloodlines were blue collar, Istabraq came from a royal line: a son of Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) whose dam, Betty’s Secret, was a daughter of Secretariat. Owned by E.P. Taylor, the Canadian thoroughbred breeder and owner of Northern Dancer, Betty’s Secret was sent to Ireland in 1987 to be bred to some of Northern Dancer’s British sons. Taylor died two years later and the mare, in foal to Sadler’s Wells was purchased by Hamdan Al Maktoum.

The foal she was carrying was Istabraq.

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty's Secret (Secretariat).

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty’s Secret (Secretariat).

The colt foal seemed to understand from the very beginning that he was “someone special.” And indeed he was destined to be — but it took time.

The colt’s name was Sindhi for “brocade” but the weave of him proved inferior on the flat, where he managed only 2 wins. His jockey, the great Willie Carson, described the youngster as a “slow learner” who “…also lacked speed and was not at home on fast ground…I came to the conclusion that the reason he was struggling was because he had no speed. In fact, he was one-paced…”

As a three year-old, he developed foot problems. He was, in fact, flat-footed, making shoeing him a problem. When Istabraq refused to quicken in his last race as a three year-old, despite Carson’s aggressive ride, Sheikh Hamdan let trainer John Gosden know that it was enough: Istabraq was to be sold.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey before becoming an assistant trainer to the great John Gosden.

When John Durkan, Gosden’s assistant trainer, heard that Istabraq would be listed in the 1995 Tattersall’s sale he resolved to acquire him. He saw possibilities for Istabraq, but not on the flat — as a hurdler. Having informed Gosden that he would be leaving to go out on his own, Durkan began searching for a possible buyer for Istabraq and found one in J. P. McManus, a wealthy Irishman who had made a fortune as a gambler. Following the sale at Tattersall’s, McManus shipped Istabraq back to Ireland with the understanding that the colt would be trained by Durkan. In his young trainer, Istabraq had found someone who believed in him.

“He is no soft flat horse. He is the sort who does not get going until he’s in a battle. He has more guts than class and that’s what you need, ” Durkan told McManus, “He will win next year’s Sun Alliance Hurdle.” Prophetic words.

"No soft

“He is no soft flat horse…” Durkan counselled J. P. McManus. And you see it here, in the power as ISTABRAQ launches, even though he’s a good distance from the hurdle.

But the young Durkan would soon be beset with tragedy, although not before watching his beloved gelding take ten hurdle races in a row from 1996-1997. Durkan was battling cancer and was shipped to Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York City; Aidan O’Brien took over training duties. By 1998, John was dying and moved home to Ireland, succumbing on the night of January 21, 1998.

Charlie Swan wore a black armband in John’s memory on the day of Istabraq’s first start in 1998, the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle. The gelding, who was now 6 years old, was a national hero and thousands turned out to watch him begin his 6 year-old season in grand style at Leopardstown:

And then this gallant thoroughbred just went on and on and on, beginning with a win two months later at Cheltenham in what would be the first of three wins in the Champion Hurdle:

Retired in 2002, Istabraq is now in the fourteenth year of a happy retirement at his owner, J.P. McManus’ Martinstown Stud. There, the horse who was voted in 2009 the favourite of the last 25 years by the Irish people, hangs out with his BFF, Risk of Thunder, and continues to greet fans who visit from all over the world:

For more about Istabraq, one of Secretariat’s greatest descendants: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/secretariats-heart-the-story-of-istabraq/



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Together,we saved over 20 horses from going to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2015. And every donation counted in this effort because no donation is too small. Hale, Trendy Cielo, Maya Littlebear, Felicitas Witness and 16 others, including two mares and their foals, thank you.

Please consider making a donation to a worthy cause so that we can help more rescue efforts in 2016.

Thank you.






















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My idea to collect photographs of the progeny of Northern Dancer, our King of Thoroughbred Racing here in Canada, led to the discovery of just how influential this tiny thoroughbred stallion really was — and continues to be today, particularly in Great Britain, Ireland, Europe and Australia.


It was the last Kentucky Derby my ailing grandfather and I watched together. He sat, wrapped in blankets, in his favourite armchair and I sat cross-legged near him on the carpet, the rest of the family ranged in chairs around the black and white television console. When the little colt hit the wire, the room erupted with gasps, followed by delight. Here he was, the very first Canadian bred and owned 3 year-old to win the Kentucky Derby and he had done it in record-breaking time.

As we watched EP Taylor leading his fractious champion into the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs, my grandfather exclaimed, “Well I never……just look at him ….he’s only a pony!”

I had been born with Grandpa’s “horse gene,” as my mother liked to say. Shortly after the Derby win, I bought a copy of Sports Illustrated magazine, carefully removed a photo of “The Dancer” winning the Florida Derby and glued it onto a sturdy sheet of blue cardboard, under which I wrote: ” ‘He’s all blood and guts and he tries hard.’ Northern Dancer: first Canadian owned-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Time: 2:00:00 flat.”

The photo and the memory stuck. Today, as I write this, the faded blue cardboard with The Dancer’s photo and my round printing sits in a frame just above the computer.

This SI shot of Northern Dancer winning the Florida Derby has come down through the decades with me. Once the prized possession of a 14 year-old girl, it now sits in a frame above my computer.

This SI shot of Northern Dancer winning the Florida Derby has come down through the decades with me. Once the prized possession of a 14 year-old girl, it now sits in a frame above my computer.

Punctuated as he was by the love of a grandfather who was gone only a year later, as well as that festering horse gene of mine, it was predictable that by 1990 I had decided to collect original press photos of Northern Dancer and some of his progeny. What I had in mind was a project: to collect some photos and then mount them in an album, together with a little research on The Dancer’s most prominent progeny.

Lester Piggott and NIJINSKY, the last British Triple Crown winner.

Lester Piggott and NIJINSKY, the last British Triple Crown winner.

I started out in earnest, shopping on places like the newly-opened EBAY. But little did I know what I was going to uncover. The search for original photos of Nijinsky and The Minstrel connected me to a number of UK sellers — and it was here that the proverbial “floodgates” flew open. My career and family had necessitated a lengthy sabbatical from all things thoroughbred, leaving me somewhat amazed to discover that through the aegis of the great trainer and horseman, Vincent O’Brien, Canada’s tiny Dancer had, in fact, gone viral. 


NORTHERN DANCER by Allen F. Brewer, Jr. The artist’s exquisite portrait belies the temperament of Canada’s King of Thoroughbreds which was, to quote E.P. Taylor’s daughter, “Not very nice at all.”


I had bought a few albums to house the photos and had started mounting them together with text. But as the sheer number of photos mounted, I could see that I was making myself a project that would take a lifetime to complete. It wasn’t that I had no criteria for acquiring a photo…..it was that truly great thoroughbreds kept coming and coming, like an enormous tidal wave, prompting the question: Where do I draw the line?

Think about it. Out of the “Danzig connection” alone, another galaxy of superstars in England, Ireland, Europe and Australia have emerged. And this is only one of many Northern Dancer sire lines.

DANZIG pictured here at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky where he stood for the whole of his career at stud.

DANZIG pictured here at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky where he stood for the whole of his career at stud.





DANEHILL'S son, DANEHILL DANCER, a sire of sires.

DANEHILL’S son, DANEHILL DANCER, a sire of sires.


DANSILI, another son of DANEHILL who is making a huge impact on the breed worldwide.

Juddmonte’s DANSILI, another son of DANEHILL who is making a huge impact on the breed worldwide.


Among the remarkable thoroughbreds who descend from a bewildering galaxy of Northern Dancer sire lines and families, and who have recently retired are the champions: Rachel Alexandra (USA), America’s sweetheart and 2009 Horse of the Year, is a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and granddaughter of Sadler’s Wells; Black Caviar (AUS) whose sire, Bel Esprit, is the grandson of Nijinsky and whose dam, Helsinge, is the granddaughter of the late Green Desert (by Danzig); the incomparable Frankel (GB) a son of Galileo (by Sadler’s Wells) whose dam, the Blue Hen, Kind, is a daughter of Danehill (by Danzig); America’s two-time Horse of the Year and turf star, Wise Dan (USA), who carries Storm Bird (by Northern Dancer) and Lyphard (by Northern Dancer) on both sides of his 4th generation pedigree; the 2014 and 2013 Investec Derby winners Australia (IRE) by Galileo and Camelot (IRE) by Montjeu; Arc winner Danedream (GER), whose sire Lomitas is a grandson of Nijinsky and whose dam, Danedrop, is a daughter of Danehill (by Danzig); the brilliant Nathaniel (IRE), a son of Galileo and only one of two horses to seriously challenge Frankel, the other being Zoffany (IRE) by Dansili, a son of Danehill and grandson of Danzig; the mighty Igugu (IRE), winner of the SA Triple Tiara and a daughter of Galileo; the immortal Hurricane Fly (IRE) whose sire Montjeu is a son of Sadler’s Wells; the undefeated Arc winner Zarkava (IRE) whose sire, Zamindar, is a grandson of The Minstrel and whose dam, Zarkasha, is by the superb Kahyasi, a grandson of Nijinsky; the ill-fated and brilliant St. Nicholas Abbey (IRE) a son of Montjeu; the Australian champion All Too Hard (AUS), the half-brother of Black Caviar, and a grandson of Danehill (by Danzig); the wonderful mare, The Fugue (IRE), a daughter of Dansili (by Danehill) whose dam, Twyla Tharp, is by Sadler’s Wells; Canada’s Inglorious, winner of the 2011 Queen’s Plate, who is a granddaughter of Storm Bird (by Northern Dancer); and last but hardly least, Goldikova (IRE) whose sire, Anabaa is a son of Danzig and whose dam, Born Gold, is a granddaughter of Lyphard (by Northern Dancer).

It’s impossible to think of thoroughbred racing or the National Hunt without these individuals — but even they are the tip of the proverbial iceberg in the ongoing genetic dance of The Dancer.

Below, a video of the American turf superstar, Wise Dan, winning the 2013 Breeders Cup Mile for the second straight year:

“The bird has flown” — the fabulous Nathaniel winning the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot:

The “sensational” Canadian filly,Inglorious, winning the 2011 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, Toronto, Canada:

Stallions — so many names that one gets dizzy just trying to keep them in a kind of chronological order. Among the best-known: Giant’s Causeway, Medaglia d’Oro, Elusive Quality, Animal Kingdon, Big Brown and War Front in the USA; Galileo, Sea The Stars, Yeats, Invincible Spirit, Cape Cross (sire of Sea The Stars, Ouija Board and Golden Horn), New Approach, Oasis Dream, Kingman, Mastercraftsman, Dansili and Dubawi in Great Britain, Ireland and Europe; So You Think, Exceed and Excel, Sepoy, Redoute’s Choice, Fastnet Rock, More Than Ready, Bel Esprit and Snitzel in Australia; and in Japan, the great Empire Maker and leading sires by earnings, Deep Impact and King Kamehameha ( a son of Kingmambo who is inbred 2 X 4 to Northern Dancer through his sons, Nureyev and Lyphard, and carries Nijinsky’s son, Green Dancer, in his 4th generation).

A look back at the late Bart Cummings’ great champion, So You Think:

And in 2015?

Well, let’s see.

There’s America’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, American Pharoah (whose brilliance, I will continue to insist, owes at least as much to Empire Maker and his Blue Hen dam, Toussaud, a daughter of Northern Dancer’s El Gran Señor as to any other in his pedigree), the Investec Derby winner Golden Horn, Shadwell’s brilliant Muhaarar, Coolmore’s Gleneagles, the up-and-coming sire, Mastercraftman’s The Grey Gatsby and Amazing Maria in Great Britain. And it’s impossible to overlook the incomparable Treve, who now has her own theme song!

This year, they all look like him, carrying his bay coat and dark mane and tail into a future he never saw. But the familiar colours of my “tiny Dancer” always take me back to that last Kentucky Derby my grandfather and I watched together. And as for my collection of photographs, it’s tailed off considerably since it arrived at 500 + images. I’m well behind in recording them all, so the considerable overflow are now housed in an archival file.

But then along came 2015.

And I can see that my collecting is not yet done…….




Since I began THE VAULT’S rescue fund, $1,542.00 CAD has been raised, allowing THE VAULT readers and yours truly to rescue Hale, as well as a Standardbred gelding and a beautiful blue roan QH mare, in foal, from slaughter. Too, donations have been made to Our Mims and RR Refuge. I continue to work to save horses, one horse at a time: this week, it was a granddaughter of Secretariat.

This blue roan mare, in foal, was rescued from slaughter by VAULT readers the week of August 31, 2015

This blue roan mare, in foal, was rescued from slaughter by VAULT readers the week of August 31, 2015

Here’s some footage of Hale, a mere month after VAULT readers, his new owner and yours truly rescued him:

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Phar Lap was another of the bright stars in my grandfather’s pantheon of “thoroughbred immortals.” Even in the small town in rural Quebec, Canada, where my grandparents lived, horsemen knew about the mighty Phar Lap whose exploits they watched on newsreels in the town’s movie house. “He must have been just a gorgeous beast,” Grandpa would say in a hushed, reverent tone. “But the Depression was no time to be a horse, ” he added, “Nope. It was a dirty time and they did brilliant to keep Phar Lap out of harm’s way for as long as they did.”  Grandpa’s pantheon was tiny. But here was an exceptional individual who led the life of a working-class hero. The big red gelding who generally cantered home, winning 37 of his 51 starts over a span of three years, was also as gentle as the toddlers who rode, bridleless, on his broad back. 

And of all the narratives that punctuated an incredible life, the story of getting Phar Lap to the 1930 Melbourne Cup has to be the most dramatic. 

Phar Lap with the man who was closest to him and his best friend, Tommy Woodcock.

PHAR LAP with the man who was closest to him —  his best friend, Tommy Woodcock.

Phar Lap might well have died before he ever captured the 1930 Melbourne Cup, had it not been for the quick-wittednessa of a team that included trainer Harry Telford and the big red horse’s strapper, or groom, Tom Woodcock.

The Great Depression hit Australia in 1929, a year before the stock market crashed in the USA. Its effects on Australian society were devastating: in 1929, unemployment was already at 10% and at its peak, in 1932, it was at almost 32%. What jobs there were for the working and middle classes were of short duration, especially in cities like Melbourne. And as is often the case when whole nations are ravaged, the suffering was cloaked by an ominous silence. As one survivor recounted:

People were forced into all sorts of tricks and expediencies to survive, all sorts of shabby and humiliating compromises. In thousands and thousands of homes fathers deserted the family and went on the track (to become itinerant workers), or perhaps took to drink. Grown sons sat in the kitchen day after day, playing cards, studying the horses [betting on horse racing] and trying to scrounge enough for a threepenny bet, or engaged in petty crime, mothers cohabited with male boarders who were in work and who might support the family, daughters attempted some amateur prostitution and children were in trouble with the police.

(Lowenstein, Wendy. Weevils in the Flour: an oral record of the 1930s depression in Australia , 20th anniversary edition, Scribe, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia, p.2, 1998.)

This was Phar Lap’s world, where shadows of uncertainty and the desperation of the disenfranchised were the soundtrack of daily life. One escape from despair was horse racing, where men with little chance of finding a job would drop whatever they could find into betting, making that part of the industry a ripe landscape for the unscrupulous. And a horse who seemed to always win was going to evoke both public elation and private rage.

A big, red horse who brought hope to so many, PHAR LAP stirred up more dangerous emotions too. Shown here at the finish of a race in 1930. Photo and copyright: John Fairfax (for The Sydney Herald).

A big, red horse who brought hope to so many, PHAR LAP stirred up more dangerous emotions as well. Shown here at the finish of a race in 1930. Photo and copyright: John Fairfax (for The Sydney Herald).

An ugly, scrawny yearling from New Zealand who arrived at the Telford Stable with seemingly little promise had blossomed into a handsome and powerful “Champion of the People” by 1930. Phar Lap’s sire, Night Raid (1918) carried the blood of the great British stallions Bend Or (1877) and Spearmint (1903); his dam, Entreaty (1920) was a New Zealand-bred who descended from the mighty St. Simon (1881) and Isonomy (1875). Night Raid was bred in the UK and sold off first to J. McGuigan for 120 BPS, then to Australian P. Keith, followed by Sydney horseman A. P. Wade, before ending up in the stable of A. P. Roberts, a New Zealand owner-breeder. Lacklustre as he was asa a racehorse, Night Raid proved a very successful sire.



ENTREATY with a full sibling to PHAR LAP at her side.

ENTREATY with a full sibling to PHAR LAP at her side.

The handsome NIGHTMARCH was another excellent son of NIGHT RAID, defeating PHAR LAP in the 1929 Melbourne Cup.

Another excellent son of NIGHT RAID was the handsome NIGHTMARCH, who defeated PHAR LAP in the 1929 Melbourne Cup.

Poor Harry Telford! His despair at seeing the Night Raid colt was without end, for he was the one who had persuaded the millionaire, David J. Davis, to buy him. When Davis saw the colt, he blew up; when he had calmed down enough to think clearly, Davis decided to lease Phar Lap to Telford for three years. Telford would pay for the colt’s maintenance as well as entry fees and Davis would get one third of any earnings the Night Raid colt might amass. Before he turned two, Phar Lap was gelded, the thinking at the time being that as a huge, backward juvenile, the procedure would enhance his development. He was given the name PHAR LAP, derived from a Thai dialect (far lap), meaning “lightening” or “bolt of lightening” or “light from the sky.” Telford dropped the “f” in favour of the “ph” to meet registration requirements.



Harry Telford was a caring trainer but a tough one and he believed that horses benefitted from long, hard works. He set about preparing the lanky Phar Lap using this method, one that prevailed throughout the gelding’s career. Into the youngster’s life came Tommy Woodcock, who cared for “Bobby,” as Phar Lap was called, as well as several other thoroughbreds in the Telford stable. However, Phar Lap became so enamoured of his young strapper that Tommy was soon assigned to the colt full-time.

Phar Lap was Tommy’s horse in every sense of the word. Central as Tommy was to his world, Bobby developed the habit of chewing up Woodcock’s shirts and jackets. To get around this, his young groom taught him a number of games that always ended with a lump of sugar. And Phar Lap’s sweet tooth turned out to be as enormous as his size and as constant as his performance on the turf. Without Tommy’s love, loyalty and friendship it is impossible to say that Phar Lap would have developed into the champion he became, since horses who aren’t happy within themselves seldom realize their potential.

PHAR LAP with Tommy, ears pricked, undoubtedly thinking about the lumps of sugar his friend always carried in his pockets.

PHAR LAP with Tommy, ears pricked, undoubtedly thinking about the lumps of sugar his friend always carried in his pockets.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these measurements of the 3 year-old champion. Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

Phar Lap’s two year-old season was unremarkable, except for the laughter that accompanied the big, gawky gelding when he appeared on a race track. Like most babies, Bobby at first had no idea what he was supposed to do. Add to that the very real difficulty of co-ordinating those long, long legs and one can almost imagine him running awkwardly along well behind the pack. He did, however, conclude his first season by breaking his maiden with a win in the 6f Rosehill Maiden Juvenile Handicap in April 1929.

Finally figuring it out: PHAR LAP breaks his maiden at the end of his very first racing season in 1929.

Finally figuring it out: PHAR LAP wins the AJC Craven Plate under jockey W. Duncan on October 9, 1929. Photo and copyright, John Fairfax (Fairfax Photos), Australia.

But the youngster would actually race fifteen times in 1929, his first year on the track, because thoroughbreds in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate their birthdays on August 1, and not in January. So a fairer analysis of Bobby’s 1929 performances would show that from September 14, 1929, the now three year-old went on an absolute tear, chalking up a record of 9-4-1-1 from August to November. The wins came in the AJC Derby and the two-mile AJC Craven’s Plate (in October), as well as the prestigious Victoria Derby in November, where he was piloted for the second time by the legendary James Pike.

Under Pike’s guidance, Phar Lap had become the favourite to take the 1929 Derby. Unfortunately, “Gentle Jim” (as Pike was known) was not available and Bobby Lewis was given the mount. As it turned out, Big Bobby and Jockey Bobby fought with each other through the first quarter of the Cup, with Lewis trying to wrestle Phar Lap back, to rate off the pace. It was too much for the youngster and Nightmarch came home first with Phar Lap settling for third — an extraordinary performance considering how he had worn himself out. As 1929 closed, Phar Lap had started fifteen times with a maximum rest of 26 days between races, discounting a three-month summer lay-off. He had run at distances from 6 f to 2 miles and carried imposts from 91-122 lbs. (AJC Victoria Derby win) — an unheard of amount of weight by today’s standards.

Jim Pike brings PHAR LAP to the winner's circle after their win in the 1929 AJC Derby. Photo and copyright, Racing Museum, Australia

Jim Pike brings PHAR LAP to the winner’s circle after their win in the 1929 AJC Derby. Photo and copyright, Museum Victoria, Australia.

No surprise, then, that when Phar Lap started his 3-4 year-old season in 1930 he had quite the fan following — and the statuesque red gelding did not disappoint. It was to be the year of Bobby and Gentle Jim, for in all but 5 of his 21 starts, Jim Pike was in the irons. It was a year none would forget: racing at distances from 9f to 2 1/4 miles, the big horse won 19 and finished second and third respectively in the other two. Bobby reeled off nine consecutive wins between March and May, and another ten from September 13 – November 8. The maximum time-off between races that year was 14 days; the minimum, 9. Carrying weight of between 109 and 138 lbs., Phar Lap came home running easily. After his death, jockey Pike would say that he’d never even come close to finding the bottom of an animal with whom he, like Tommy Woodcock, shared a spiritual bond.

The great horse carried as much as 138 lbs. weight in his second season on the turf. But it didn't stop PHAR LAP from winning 19 of 21 starts. Photo and copyright, The Herald, Australia

The great horse carried as much as 138 lbs. weight in his second season on the turf. But it didn’t stop PHAR LAP from winning 19 of 21 starts. Shown here with Jim Pike. Photo and copyright, The Sydney Herald, Australia.

As Phar Lap’s second season progressed through a win in the Cox Plate — his sixth in a row at that point in the season — one thing was becoming eminently clear: the betting houses stood to lose a fortune if the “Red Terror’s” winning streak continued.

In the early doubles betting for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, the Phar Lap-Phar Lap double had been heavily backed, as was the Nightmarch-Phar Lap and the Amounis-Phar Lap double.  Telford and Davis had heavily backed the Amounis-Phar Lap ticket, hoping to make a very tidy sum for themselves. Telford had always been secretive about his plans for Phar Lap. Apparently not satisfied with their horse’s substantial earnings to date, Telford, Davis  (and perhaps others) used this same tactic to ferment conditions that would make betting even more favourable for themselves.

As the Caulfield Cup drew near and the war of nerves heightened, several owners, including the shady A. Louisson who owned Nightmarch, withdrew their horses from the race. Five days before the Caulfield Cup, Telford withdrew Phar Lap, provoking rage among those who had determined not to run their horses.

On Caulfield Cup day, Amounis obliged by winning and became Australia’s biggest stakes winner ever at 48,197 AUS pounds — an absolute fortune in 1930.

But Telford, Davis and others who had backed the Amounis-Phar Lap double were equally thrilled, since it seemed impossible that Phar Lap would lose.

AMOUNIS, a champion in his own right was another favoured for the Caulfield Cup.

AMOUNIS, a champion in his own right, was another favoured to win the 1930 Caulfield Cup.

For the bookies — from those legitimate betting enterprises to the ones closely associated with Australia’s underworld, referred to as “illegal starting-price operators”  — the prospect of Phar Lap’s winning the Melbourne Cup spelled disaster. It was estimated that with doubles and straight betting combined, bookmakers would be paying out something in the region of 200,000 AUS pounds should Phar Lap win. The legitimate bookmakers would, albeit begrudgingly, meet their obligations. But the betting underworld was populated with gangsters, gunmen, drug lords and the like — a rough sort, unlikely to pay out such a vast sum.

And this doesn’t even include all the individuals who had lost money betting on a Phar Lap- Phar Lap and/or Nightmarch/Phar Lap double, or disgruntled owners like Louisson, who had pulled perfectly good horses from the Caulfield Cup and headed home penniless.

BOBBY and his best friend, Tommy Woodcock, were front page news no matter where they went or what they were doing.

BOBBY and Tommy were front page news no matter where they went or what they were doing.

BOBBY with Tommy and a young friend. Photo and copyright, Fairfax Photos, Australia

BOBBY in his rugs, with Tommy and a young friend. Children were always welcome to meet and greet the Champ — and especially when he was on holiday! BOBBY was a gentle giant and children were always safe around him. Photo and copyright, John Fairfax (Fairfax Photos) Australia.

At the same time, Phar Lap had woven his way into the hearts of a nation. Everything he did was front page news, from rolling around in the sand to carrying toddlers on his back to going for works with the grey pony who was his constant stable companion. It seemed impossible that anyone would try to take down a horse who had become a national figure.

About a week before the running of the 1930 Melbourne Cup, Tommy Woodcock looked up from attending to Phar Lap to see a friend of trainer Telford and a man “who stood high in my estimation…A person who had entry to Telford’s stables at any time” entering the barn. After a bit of smalltalk, this mystery man (Woodcock never identified him by name) tactfully suggested that, should Phar Lap win the Cup, “… the bookmakers would be calling for the bridle to make the weight.” Tommy laughed off the observation, even though he knew it was a reference to the plight of bookmakers should the big horse win.

Thinking that Woodcock would be easy to convince, the visitor tried again,  “I’ll wager you could get a fortune from some of those who are deep in if you doped Phar Lap before the race.” But Tommy wasn’t paying much attention — he was too busy “dressing” Bobby.

PHAR LAP, with Pike riding the white "pony" who was also the Champ's constant companion, heads out for a work. Photo and copyright, Fairfax Photos, Australia.

PHAR LAP, with Pike riding the grey “pony” who was also the Champ’s constant companion, heads out for a work. Photo and copyright, Fairfax Photos, Australia.

The Melbourne Cup was (and remains) THE race on the Australian calendar and on Cup Day the entire country shuts down. The pressure on anyone who has a Cup horse is already enormous. Added to the pressure assailing Tommy was that he was receiving threatening letters on a daily basis about what might happen to his beloved Bobby if the horse ran. Whether or not the mystery man was behind these threats has never been made clear, but they included spraying Phar Lap with acid and sticking him with needles. Others, of a similar bent, were seen by the young lad as patently ridiculous. But one letter made his blood turn to ice: this one threatened that Phar Lap would be “shot down like a dingo.”  It went on to say that “Phar Lap was used by gamblers unfairly to trick bookmakers and that if {Phar Lap’s} life was valued his name should be struck out of the Cup.”

The mystery man showed up again at Joe Cripps’ stables at Caulfield where Phar Lap was stabled. This time, “…He told me that the Ring would never get over the knock it would receive {if Phar Lap won} at the same time saying he knew of men who would give a heap of money to be relieved of their responsibilities. ‘Tommy, you could set yourself up for life if you listened to them,’ he added.”

The third visit was more straight forward. ” ‘ Tommy, the best I can do for you is four thousand (AUS),’ he said. I looked at him in astonishment. He must have thought that I was disappointed in the offer as he went on to tell me that there were only a couple of bookmakers in it, and four thousand pounds was a lot of money.”

To a young strapper during the Depression era, if not in general, it was indeed a fortune. Grooms and stable folk didn’t earn anything near to what owners, trainers and jockeys made — even when they were rubbing a champion. But Tom Woodcock was an honest youth and he loved Phar Lap. His response to the bribe was swift: he ordered the man off the premises and advised him to not return on threat of bodily harm. Then he called Harry Telford.


The most frightening letter that Woodcock received stated that Phar Lap would be “shot down like a dingo” if he contested the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

First, Tommy told the trainer about the bribe. There was a long silence. Telford replied, “… Phar Lap {will} be lucky if he {sees} the post in the Cup, as more than one person {is} anxious to see him out of the way.” Telford went on to say that he,too, had been offered a bribe: ten thousand (AUS) pounds; Woodcock later heard, from reliable sources, that Jim Pike had also been bribed. But, although all three regularly bet (in fact, Jim Pike ended his years in poverty because of his gambling addiction) none accepted, leading Woodcock to conclude “…Whatever those who tried to engineer the defeat of Phar Lap thought of Telford, Pike or me for refusing to be a party to their scheme, they must at least have realized we were honest men.”

Woodcock then told the trainer about the threat to shoot the horse and a 24-hour guard was put on Phar Lap. As Tommy observed, ” …The only way they could maim him was to shoot him, so close was the guard on him, and it would have to be a shot at long range as little opportunity was afforded anyone of getting close to him.” Tommy moved his bed from near Bobby’s stall right into it. As his fears mounted, Woodcock confessed to be suffering from “imaginitis,” causing him to lie awake most of the night next to the giant gelding and to look as though he had eyes in the back of his head whenever they left the Cripps’ stable for Caulfield race track.

Like many who have trained famous thoroughbreds, Telford’s team habituated the early morning hours, when it was still dark, to work Phar Lap. So it was that on a Saturday that was also the morning of the Derby and the opening day of Melbourne’s Racing Carnival, Tommy on his pony and a hooded Bobby left the stable for Caulfield race track, where they would meet up with Bobby Parker, who had escorted the Cripps’ horses to the track and would, in turn, work Phar Lap.

Another lad who worked for Cripps, as well as a newspaper reporter, noted the car near the track. The reporter noticed that the numbers on its licence plate were scrawled crudely in what looked like chalk. (Cars were still rare in Australia at this time and it was even rarer to find one anywhere near a race track that early in the morning.) Tommy didn’t take note of it because he had taken a different route to the track, since Phar Lap liked to look at everything around him and always appreciated an improvisation to his usual routine.

PHAR LAP (foreground) training with other horses from Telford's stable. Photo and Copyright, Museum of New Zealand.

PHAR LAP (foreground) training with other horses from Telford’s stable. Photo and Copyright, Museum of New Zealand.

After Phar Lap’s breeze, the little band started out for home. It was about 5:20 a.m.

Usually the trio wound their way back at a leisurely pace along Roseberry Grove, but for some (fortuitous) reason, Tommy decided to take an alternate route along Manchester Grove instead. Which meant that they came up behind the car that Parker and the journalist had spotted earlier, instead of in front of it. Tommy saw its whitewashed, chalky plates immediately. The hairs on his head bristled. But he was almost alongside it before he knew something was not right and, as he passed, the occupants buried their heads in their newspapers. (He would subsequently recount that he saw a shotgun barrel peak out of the rear window as they passed by.)

Phar Lap and his pony moved alongside and passed the car, but before they got far enough away Tommy heard its engine start up. Digging his heels into the pony, he hustled around a corner and pushed Phar Lap up against a fence, planting the pony and himself between Bobby and the car. But the Studebaker came careening after them, its horn blaring, making straight for Phar Lap. The gelding became agitated and reared up, turning himself around 360 degrees in the process.

As Tommy tells it, “Lucky for him {Phar Lap} he did so, as the back seat passenger poked out a double-barreled shotgun and fired point blank. The pellets were embedded in the picket fence where Phar Lap had been standing…It was all over in a second. They didn’t stop to fire a second shot. The shooting took place at 5:40 a.m. and with the report of the gun and the honking of the horn it wasn’t long before heads were appearing out of gates and windows.” Woodcock failed to mention that he himself was thrown to the ground by the frightened pony, who was subsequently grabbed by a milkman.

It wasn't long before the shocked nation heard the story.

It wasn’t long before a shocked nation heard the whole story.


Phar Lap had been entered in the Melbourne Stakes as a kind of prep race on November 1, three days before the Cup, and — incredibly — his team decided to go on with it. Two policemen were stationed just feet away from the horse’s stall and remained with him up until the evening of November 1, when a victorious Phar Lap returned to the Cripps’ barn.

Having read the newspaper reports of the shooting, a Mr. H.G. Raymond, of the Victoria Racing Club, stepped forward to offer his property at St. Albans near Geelong as a hiding place for Phar Lap until Cup Day. The offer was jumped at by Telford. At about the same time, jockey Jim Pike went into hiding as well, since if the gunmen couldn’t get to the horse, he judged that he might well be their next victim.

Later that same night, horse, pony and Woodcock were shipped off the Cripps’ premises in the middle of the night. Bags were laid out on the ground to muffle the sound of horse and pony being loaded into the trailer. And before the van moved away, trainer Telford (who, with Cripps, was the only one other than Raymond, Woodcock and Stan Boyden, Telford’s trusted driver, who knew of the plan) handed a gun to both Tommy and Stan.

Fortunately, nothing happened that required either of them to use their weapons. All arrived safely at St. Albans, Bobby being a model passenger, since he was always happy if his beloved Tommy was close by.For the two days leading up to the Cup, Woodcock slept right beside Phar Lap, while another horse, Old Ming, was selected to pose as the champion and duly stabled at Cripps’ Stable. Telford later confided that Old Ming was rather shocked by all the fuss and bother that greeted him, dressed in Phar Lap’s tack of rug and hood, when he went to Caulfield to train.

The morning of the Melbourne Cup, Phar Lap had a short work with some of the St. Albans’ horses before being tacked up and loaded onto the horse trailer at 11 a.m. Arriving at the Flemington track in good time, the trailer entered via the member’s drive. At race time, Phar Lap was escorted to the track by armed guards.

Police accompany PHAR LAP to the start of the Melbourne Cup.

Police and armed guards accompany PHAR LAP to the start of the Melbourne Cup.

A crowd of 72,000 had turned out to see him and Tommy had groomed Phar Lap’s red coat to a burnished, gleaming copper. As Jim Pike sent him down to the start at a canter, a wave of cheers of tsunami proportion accompanied the gelding. It was a small field — not usually the case — likely as much due to the Depression as to Phar Lap’s reputation. But no-one minded. All were there to see the greatest thoroughbred that Australia had ever known win its most prestigious Cup.

Gentle Jim never touched him and carrying the staggering impost of 138 lbs. as though it was nothing, Phar Lap turned into the home stretch and cruised up to the wire, his ears pricked. Hearts that had been so tested by the Depression were swept up in a joyous abandon that shook the grandstand.

But no heart sailed higher than Tommy Woodcock’s. Later that night, feeding Bobby sugar while cradling his head, Tommy told him that he was “the best horse in the whole world.”

Which, of course, he was.

The winnings were 9, 229 pounds (AUS), together with the Gold Cup, worth another 200. Tom Woodcock received ten pounds from Phar Lap’s owners …. as a bonus for taking such good care of Bobby.

The headlines and celebration of the day follow, together with some remarkable footage of Phar Lap.


PHAR LAP comes to the wire, ears pricked, to win the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

PHAR LAP comes to the wire, ears pricked, to win the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

Coming home, Jim Pike hugging his neck. It was Pike's first Melbourne Cup after trying for it 14 times!

Coming home, Jim Pike hugging his neck. It was Pike’s first Melbourne Cup after trying for it fourteen times. And just look at the expression on the faces of those watching their champion — those faces say it all.

PHAR LAP in the news_02lrg

BONUS FEATURE: an absolutely stunning documentary entitled “The Mighty Conquerer” made about PHAR LAP just before his departure for New Zealand and then the USA. Nothing we have ever seen comes closer to its message of love for the mighty Phar Lap.


Carter, I. R. PHAR LAP: the Story Of The Big Horse. Melbourne, Australia:1964.

Woodcock, T. PHAR LAP MEMORIES  serialized in THE MERCURY, Hobart, Tasmania: 1936.

THE ARGUS, Melbourne, Australia 1929-1930.


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…And humbled indeed he was. Mike de Kock, the trainer of great thoroughbreds like Horse Chestnut and Ipi Tombe, as well as a spate of others who ran mostly in South Africa and Dubai, had just been overwhelmed by the performance of his 4 year-old mare, Igugu.

Igugu means “jewel” or “treasure” in Zulu and that she most certainly is — and more. Just how much more remains to be seen.

South Africa’s 2010 Horse of the Year had come into the Southern Cape’s flagship race, the J & B Met, not quite herself. The daughter of Galileo had first been ill, then had to endure an 18-hour road trip to Cape Town, followed by almost complete isolation in quarantine in the days before the race. She had had little gusto to train up to the race. She appeared lacklustre at the start.

But then, the heart of a champion kicked into gear as the field turned for home…..

Igugu is to South African racing what fillies and mares like Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Rags To Riches and Dance Smartly are to North America, what Black Caviar is to Australia and Zarkava to France: a Superstar. That one thoroughbred in a million who brings passion, excitement and heart-stopping thrills to fan and punter alike each and every time they step onto the turf. Igugu joins the ranks of great female thoroughbreds worldwide who have so impressively stepped up over the better part of this decade to compete against all comers.

Igugu, the Queen of South African racing.

Her sire, Galileo (1998).

Her dam, the unraced Zarinia (2001) is a daughter of Intikhab (1994).

Igugu was born in Australia in 2007, the product of one of sire Galileo’s Southern Hemisphere visits. What can we say about Galileo? Even in countries where he has yet to set foot, he is known as a sire who likely carries the prepotency of Sadler’s Wells, together with the rich genetic material of his outstanding dam, Urban Sea. During her lifetime, Urban Sea not only won the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe for the Tsui family, but went on to become a Blue Hen, producing My Typhoon as well as still another equine giant, in the form of the incomparable Sea The Stars.

To return to Galileo — clearly the high hopes Coolmore invested in him has borne golden fruit.

Not only that, but this wonderful stallion has the knack of producing “golden” fillies as well as colts. To date, Galileo has sired talented fillies like Allegretto, Golden Lilac, Maybe, Lush Lashes, Together, Misty For Me and a half-sister to the great Goldikova, Galikova, who is well on her way to following in her big sister’s footsteps. As for colts, Galileo’s champion progeny include Frankel, Nathaniel, Treasure Beach, Cape Blanco, Soldier of Fortune, Rip Van Winkle, Red Rocks, Sixties Icon and the lightly raced, Teofilo.  If even one of these boys becomes a solid sire, then Galileo, at the ripe old age of 15, enters the high society of sire of sires. As for his daughters: who wouldn’t dream of a broodmare band with this quality and depth?

Igugu’s dam, Zarinia, never raced. And the filly’s broodmare sire, Intikhab, descends from the Roberto line. However, he has thus far proved only a moderate success, with arguably his biggest splash being the outstanding Snow Fairy (2007). Rounding out her pedigree is the fact that Igugu is inbred to Mr. Prospector (4 X 5) and Hail To Reason (5 X5).

Igugu in a conformation shot.

In 2009-2010, the 2 year-old Igugu started 5 times, winning 3 and coming in second twice. The two she lost in her maiden year are the only 2 races in what is now a total of 12 starts. Since February 2011, Igugu has done nothing but win. Here she is breaking her maiden under jockey Randall Simons, who rode her throughout her 2 year-old season:

Like many of the Galileo’s, Igugu at 2 was high-strung, inclined to sweat up before a race and got so wound up that her favourite running style involved charging out of the gate as though her tail were on fire, grabbing the lead and then running away from the field. She’s stayed pretty much the same throughout her career. But at the beginning, given her sweats and slightly wild-eyed temperament, Mike de Kock was not prepared to label her brilliant, although he knew that she had some potential. Any experienced trainer will tell you that even great ability can be swamped by a nervous sensibility. So the jury was out on Igugu for most of her 2 year-old season.

The love of Mike de Kock’s career will always be the masterful Horse Chestnut (1995), a winner of the South African Triple Crown. The handsome chestnut also came from the Northern Dancer – Sadler’s Wells sire lines, as does Igugu. If truth were to be told, de Kock’s very private view was that Horse Chestnut had been THE horse of his lifetime.

The magnificent Horse Chestnut.

While it is true that for every trainer there is typically one thoroughbred who sweeps him/her off their feet in a love story that lasts forever, when Igugu embarked on her own Triple Crown campaign — South Africa’s Triple Tiara, first instituted in 1999 — she gave her trainer’s loyalty to his Triple Crown champion colt a run for its money.

Follow each victory from your own seat in THE VAULT’S GRANDSTAND, beginning with the 2011 Gauteng Fillies Guineas:

Second leg: the Grade One SA Fillies Classic:

And then, the race that brought them to their feet, the SA Oaks:

And there you are. In the speed of a heartbeat, Galileo’s little girl became the very first winner of SA’s Triple Tiara, giving Mike de Kock an unprecedented two such champions in his career.

Igugu after her courageous win against the colts in her first start of 2012.

At this point in 2012, Igugu’s story begins where this article started. Future plans include the possibility of running her in Dubai.

But we think that it’s fair to say that after her victory in the J & B Met in January, Igugu left the track to take up residence right next to Horse Chestnut, in the chambers of her trainer’s heart.

South Africa's sweetheart and her regular jockey, Anthony Delpech. Delpech took over from Simons when Igugu started her Triple Tiara campaign.

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