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Title Image: Leaving Australia
Agua Caliente

As the winning post approached, Phar Lap slowed to little more than a canter. The crowd went wild.

On 20 March 1932, the big day had arrived. The Agua Caliente Handicap was scheduled for late in the day as the thirteenth race.

Phar Lap, from an outside barrier, was one of the last away. This suited jockey Billy Elliot just fine. He had been warned not to get too close to the fence because other jockeys might block him for a run. Indeed, rightly or wrongly, the Phar Lap camp thought Mafia types would try to box him in.

Phar Lap winning Agua Caliente Handicap

Agua Caliente Handicap on film

Phar Lap looks quite at home as he goes down to the starting gate. He's wearing the bandages on the fore-legs, just as he did in all his Australian races...

link to movie

Rounding the first turn, Elliot took Phar Lap out very wide to the centre of the track to avoid the dirt being thrown up by the field. It was then, as the turn straightened-up for a back stretch of about four hundred metres, that 'the fireworks started'.

Phar Lap went from about second-last to gather up the entire field, finding the fence as the next turn commenced. Elliot then let the horse take it easy, holding his front position coming up to the hometurn. It was at this point, as Reveille Boy moved forward and momentarily got his head in front, that Phar Lap met his moment of truth.

It is sometimes said that true champions can produce two 'runs' within a race. Phar Lap's first run, along the back straight, was dazzling—amazing really. His second, to shake off Reveille Boy and the rest of the field, was delivered with authority. Elliot gave him no more than a nudge and in a couple of his giant strides Phar Lap put himself two, then three lengths in front.

The radio broadcast back in Australia was fairly rough, but people certainly got the right idea: Phar Lap had won. There were tens of thousands of perfectly synchronised scenes of jubilation across the country. Never before had Australia experienced such a sense of live participation in an international sporting event.

Phar Lap After Agua Caliente Handicap

After the race

After the race, as the champion was brought back to the winners' circle, the crowd of 50,000 witnessed the Australians' sense of relief and elation.

link to full story

© Museum Victoria Australia