No other country in the
world continues to revere a racehorse in the fashion of Australia and despite many champions of the turf
coming and going over the years, there’s still only one Phar Lap.

However, you could be
mistaken for thinking that as champion mare Makybe Diva attempts to
emulate
Phar Lap as a winner of our greatest weight-for-age race this Saturday,
“Diva fever” among
racing fans is taking on Phar Lap-type proportions. Should she win the
Cox Plate and proceed to Flemington for a crack at an
unprecedented third straight
Melbourne Cup, like Phar Lap, Makybe Diva’s fan club will become a
tidal wave of
Australia-wide support.

Yet even if the mare can
emulate Phar Lap’s 1930 Cox Plate-Melbourne Cup double, she will
still not supplant “Big Red” at the top of Australia’s pantheon of racing immortals – such
has been his profound presence in our history. Not just because of his
extraordinary deeds on the track, but with his arrival and domination
coinciding as it did with the Great Depression, the huge gelding struck
an unbreakable bond with a struggling nation. And ultimately his
tragic death in California, which is still talked about and debated to this day,
only added to his legend.

It’s now impossible to
separate his racing exploits from his enduring celebrity and the many
“what
ifs” that remain intriguingly unanswered. How much greater might he
have been, if he had gone on to race as the most famous racehorse in
North
America in 1932; before going on to England to take on their best as
well?

Saturday marks the 75th
anniversary of Phar Lap’s first Cox Plate win in 1930, before
going on to immortality by racing and
winning on all four days of the Melbourne Cup carnival. And with today’s DVD release of
the 1983 movie Phar Lap, it’s
pertinent to again revisit the perennial question: was he “the best that ever was”?

You can read our Phar Lap
tribute in full here.

Peter Fray

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