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Title Image: Leaving Australia
Leaving Australia

Phar Lap had won virtually every major Australian race, many of them twice. The next chapter in Phar Lap's life would consolidate his status as a national icon.

 Phar Lap before leaving

The idea of taking 'Big Red' to the United States had been discussed among racing people for some time. David Davis proved the most enthusiastic supporter of the idea; hardly surprising given his American background and intentions of returning there.

Many Australians, meanwhile, had a dark sense of foreboding about the plans, but the decision was not theirs to make. Even Telford, it was said, had misgivings.

The US offered a rich racing circuit, but the greatest single incentive was the Agua Caliente Handicap—America's richest race. Agua Caliente was actually in Mexico: a casino-resort complex set just over the border, south of San Diego.

The prize money of US$100,000 ensured that Phar Lap would be up against America's best. This remained the case, despite a halving of the prize money several weeks before the race because of the Depression.

Harry Telford had other horses to train, and so nominated Tom Woodcock to accompany the champ as both strapper and trainer. On Friday 20 November 1931 Phar Lap sailed from Sydney Harbour.

In reality, Telford had to send Woodcock. More than ever he had become like a security blanket for the horse. On the sea journey, Phar Lap even made it difficult for Woodcock to take his meals in the ship's dining area. A special stable had been built for Phar Lap on the deck—complete with a sandpit for him to roll in—but whenever Woodcock went below to eat, 'Bobby' would create a fuss.

The journey to America included a six week break in Auckland, much enjoyed by the locals. New Zealanders had not forgotten where Phar Lap was foaled and made it clear they regarded Phar Lap as a New Zealand champion.

Phar Lap leaving from Sydney

Good luck Phar Lap

Few of those gathered at Sydney Harbour to farewell Phar Lap would have imagined that it was the last they would see of him alive.

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© Museum Victoria Australia