Phar Lap was officially registered as a racehorse in Sydney in December 1928.
Almost three months after he was registered, Phar Lap lined up for his first race: the Nursery Handicap, at Rosehill. It is difficult to put a gloss on this event: Phar Lap came last. On three more occasions over the next month Phar Lap was tried over short distances, and on each occasion he was unplaced.
Victory finally came at Rosehill on 27 April 1929 in the Maiden Juvenile Handicap—Maiden because none of the other entrants had won a race either.
Over the next few months he had a rest from racing—known as a 'spell'—followed by five starts. What made these starts significant was that they were against tougher opposition. Phar Lap was now running amongst the best three–year–olds in Sydney.
Many people thought he was totally out of his depth. Not for the first time they laughed at trainer Harry Telford. However, it wasn't long before Telford got the last laugh. From late September, Phar Lap began to win.
The performance that really made racing people reassess Phar Lap was in the Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick on 14 September 1929. Phar Lap put in a sizzling run to come second. At last he was beginning to concentrate. Finally, in late September, he won the Rosehill Guineas—traditionally a lead-up to the biggest race of the season for three–year–olds: the AJC Derby.
There was a strong sense of anticipation within racing circles leading up to the Derby. When Phar Lap won by three and a half lengths there was a real sense that he had 'arrived'. It is said that Telford was so overcome that he could not move for several minutes after the race, even though he had duties to attend to as part of the presentation.