Matthew Scully’s book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy takes the stand that animals are tied to “profound vulnerability” in the hands of man, that when “injured, or abused, animals shriek, squeal, squawk, bark, growl, whinny, and whimper” in their pain and suffering.
Therefore, concludes Scully, animals are sentient, capable of feelings and experiencing pain in conditions similar to those of human suffering.
It is recorded history that (New Zealand born) Australian racehorse Phar Lap moaned hour after hour while lying beside his faithful keeper, Tommy Woodcock, and suffered profoundly until he breathed his last breath two days after the onset of his fatal illness.
PHAR LAP’S STORY COMPELS FANS NEARLY A CENTURY LATER
While the results of testing hairs from Phar Lap’s preserved hide described in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition on June 7, 2010 still meets with continued debate over Phar Lap’s cause of death, the actual painful, last agony of the Australian champion’s suffering cannot be disputed. Woodcock tearfully described it to his own last dying day.
The great chestnut racehorse, age six, died 16 days after only partially overcoming hoof problems and carrying top weight to win the Agua Caliente Handicap, a prestigious, top-ranked race held in Tijuana, Mexico on March 20, 1932. He passed on April 5, just after 2 p.m. at Menlo Park near San Francisco, where he had been stabled to await his first race in the United States.
Mystery has continued to revolve around the death of Phar Lap even after the June, 2010 report.
In 2000 and in 2005, material written by Geoff Armstrong and Peter Thompson described the assertion that Phar Lap suffered an attack “by an enterotoxin of bacterial origin, a poison, that caused Anterior Enteritis (or more correctly Duodenitis-Proximal jejunitis). This disease syndrome was not identified in the veterinary science literature until the early 1980s, so it never could have been considered as a possible cause of Phar Lap’s death at the time he died.
An article titled “Study Concludes Phar Lap Died of Arsenic Poisoning” appeared July 10, 2010, on page six of the Thoroughbred Times news magazine. It discusses a finding for the demise of Phar Lap as ingested arsenic, quoting a report that states “Phar Lap’s autopsy and pre-death symptoms are consistent with arsenic poisoning and the current study provides strong chemical evidence of a ‘large-quantity arsenic ingestion’ (poisoning).”
Australians faithful to the idea that Phar Lap was purposefully poisoned in America look to the report for validity.
Believers of the Phar Lap poisoning theory may argue that a real attempt on Phar Lap’s life took place in Australia just before the running of that country’s most famous race, the Melbourne Cup, in 1930. The assassination attempt failed due in part to Woodcock shielding Phar Lap against a wall. A gun was fired at the horse from a moving Studebaker approaching the corner of James and Etna streets in Caulfield as Woodcock, riding a gray pony, led Phar Lap back to his stables at Caulfield race course after a track workout.
Following the incident, it was widely accepted that assassins attempted to eliminate the horse because his winning ways adversely affected the gambling interests of the country.
PHAR LAP’S RACING LEGACY
Much like Seabiscuit’s story in America from the late 1930s into the early ’40s, Phar Lap’s legacy in Australia grew out of a need for a “hero” to lift the spirit of the masses from the plight of economic depression.
The Thai word “pharlap” means “emitting light from the sky”. Phar Lap became that light from the sky in Australia.
A normal race for Big Red, who was 17-hands high, was two miles long, and his victories, a phenomenal 37 from 51 starts, usually were little contested. He was the Super Horse, bred in New Zealand, bought and trained in Australia by Harry R. Telford, and sold to American David J. Davis.
Early on in Phar Lap’s training, Telford was frustrated by the horse’s stubbornness. It was Woodcock, Big Red’s young devoted companion, and Telford’s stable hand, who coaxed Phar Lap into racing competitively. The horses’s eventual victories provided Telford with his life-long dream, the funds to purchase and train a genuine stable of racing Thoroughbreds.
When Davis voiced his desire to race Phar Lap in America, Telford refused to agree to accompany his champion. He told Davis he wouldn’t leave his large stable of horses in training. Instead, he agreed to name Woodcock his assistant trainer and send him with Phar Lap to San Francisco.
Woodcock and Phar Lap traveled by boat to New Zealand, then to California, arriving in San Francisco on January 15. From there, Woodcock drove Phar Lap’s horse van to and from Mexico for Big Red’s first race off Australian shores, the Agua Caliente Handicap. The race was considered a prep to his American debut.
And it was Woodcock who spent the remainder of his life pining for the loss of “Bobby”, the nickname he used for his remarkable racing companion.
In a stretch from March 1 of 1930 through March 20 of 1932, Phar Lap won an astounding 32 of 35 racing starts. Modern Thoroughbreds aren’t asked to race with such frequency, so only a handful of others in world racing history ever have equaled, or surpassed, Phar Lap’s record.
Australians today still mourn Phar Lap’s premature death.
Photos courtesy of http://www.wikimedia.com
//Additional Resources: Phar Lap, by Geoff Armstrong and Peter Thompson, 2003 Edition, Allen & Unwin; Melbourne Cup 1930, by Geoff Armstrong and Peter Thompson, 2005, A Sue Hines Book, Allen & Unwin; Phar Lap the People’s Champion, DVD, 2001 Raceplay Video (Woodcock-Telford-Davis interviews)//