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National Museum acquires historic Phar Lap Catalogue

2 November 2015

85 years since Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup

An historic 1928 catalogue documenting the sale of the champion racehorse Phar Lap to American businessman David J Davis, has been acquired by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

On the 85th anniversary of Phar Lap’s 1930 Melbourne Cup win, the National Museum has purchased the "Annual New Zealand Thoroughbred Yearling Sales" catalogue for January 24th 1928, which lists the “chestnut colt” for sale and notes that "Phar Lap Sold Lot 41" to "Davis of Sydney".

The horse we know as Phar Lap was bred at Timaru in New Zealand, by farmer and Seadown Stud owner Alec Roberts. The stud sent six yearlings to the 1928 sales, including Phar Lap - who was notable for being large, and prone to tripping.

Sydney-based trainer Harry Telford received a copy of the catalogue and was struck by the colt’s breeding. He did not have enough money to purchase the animal so approached businessman Davis to provide the funds.

Davis agreed on the condition that Harry Telford’s brother Hugh, who was based in New Zealand, inspect the horse. Davis’s bid of 160 guineas was successful. Hugh Telford then organised for the colt to be shipped to Australia.

After failing to place in eight of his first nine starts, Phar Lap won 36 of his remaining 41 races. Phar Lap's victory in the 1930 Melbourne Cup, in the midst of the Depression, elevated him to the status of national hero.

National Museum director Mathew Trinca said the catalogue “marks the start of Phar Lap’s astonishing career and is an important addition to the National Museum’s collection.”

Senior curator, Martha Sear said, “Phar Lap is one of the nation's most significant sporting icons and the horse’s heart remains the most popular object in the Museum’s collection.”

“The anniversary of Phar Lap’s Melbourne Cup win reminds us of how the deep popular affection for ‘Big Red’ continues to this day,” said Dr Sear. 

The National Museum holds a number of Phar Lap-related objects, including Phar Lap's heart and a photographic album that once belonged to Davis.

The Museum also holds a wide range of items associated with the history of horse racing in Australia including the 1866, 1867 and 1934 Melbourne Cup trophies and riding equipment used by winning jockeys.

For more information please contact Tracy Sutherland, (02) 6208 5338 / 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au

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Phar Lap collection