Bobby (the affectionate name he is known around the stables) is probably better known to you as Phar Lap, the Australian Wonder Horse.
All eyes of the world are on Agua Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico today as Phar Lap meets 10 other horses in the Agua Caliente Handicap going a mile and a quarter. This special race was made to attract Phar Lap, it is the richest race ever run on the North American Continent, $50,000!
(note: $50,000 in 1932 is $644,330 in 2001 dollars).
Phar Lap arrived in California a few months ago traveling to America by ship, with his own exercise enclosure and sand-box. Despite his long sea journey and a badly injured hoof, Phar Lap has to carry 129 pounds, more than all the other horses in this race and against some of the best horses in America who have come down to Mexico for a chance at the $50,000 purse, plus he is racing on dirt for the first time, not the nice, cushioned grass he has always raced on.
On arrival he started to grow his winter coat, his body preparing for an Australian winter, not a Mexican spring. Then he suffered a painful injury to his heel, which usually means time off. Because of the hoof injury, Phar Lap has to wear heavy bar shoes for the first time in his life.
And to top this all off he has undergone some weird (training?) that has the backstretch here at Caliente giggling. Do these Australian's know what they're doing?
Just for example, he's had no fast trials, no blowing out, none of the accepted works! In fact, much of the horse's exercise wasn't on the track!
Trainer Tom Woodcock has been riding Phar Lap all over the countryside, much as a rancher would ride his cow pony, up and down sandy hills, over rocky ground and through mesquite.
Marshall Cassidy, our starter at Caliente, has tried to persuade Woodcock to school Phar Lap out of the stalls with a Maxwell barrier, but although the horse has had no experience at this type of start, his trainer has disdained practice sessions. "Phar Lap will come away properly", he says.
I wonder if these wacky Australian horsemen really know what they're doing?
Many people regard Phar Lap as the greatest racehorse ever. In his four years on the race track, Phar Lap has won 37 of the 51 races, including fourteen in a row in 1930-31. He is the only horse ever to have been favourite for the Melbourne Cup three years in a row.
Phar Lap has won some of the most prestigious races in Australia, including four in one week during the Spring Racing Carnival of 1930.
Someone tried to shoot the horse early on Derby Day, November 1st, 1930 - possibly a bookmaker. As Tom Woodcock led him from Caulfield Racecourse back to his stables after track work, a car pulled alongside them. Woodcock pushed Phar Lap against a fence, using himself and his pony as a shield as shots were fired from the car. Although the pony threw Woodcock, he managed to hold onto Phar Lap as the car sped away. Phar Lap was unhurt and went on to win the Melbourne Stakes at Flemington that day.
Three days later Phar Lap easily won the Melbourne Cup!
And now he is here for the Auga Caliente Handicap. It is about an hour before post time in this notable event. What's this? Hold on a minute! Yes, it is! Folks I can't believe my eyes, this is unbelievable! I am shocked and so is the crowd! Jockey Billy Elliott has mounted Phar Lap and is parading Phar Lap around the infield, in the hot Mexican sun, under his full weight assignment of 129 pounds!
The word I'm getting is that this is "to get him accustomed to the weight."
Well folks, I've never seen nor heard of anything like this in all my life and this is one more piece of wackiness on his trainer's handling of this horse.
We're going to take a break now (while I laugh my head off) and come back in a bout an hour for the running of this race (if we can get Phar Lap out of the infield…hahaha).