Phar Lap’s auction catalogue sells for $A46,360

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The catalogue belonged to the auctioneer, who noted details in its pages about Phar Lap's sale.
The catalogue belonged to the auctioneer, who noted details in its pages about Phar Lap’s sale.

The auctioneer’s own catalogue from the 1928 New Zealand Thoroughbred Yearling sales that saw an unnamed chestnut colt later named Phar Lap sold to Australian connections has been bought at auction by the National Museum of Australia.

The Canberra-based museum paid $A46,360 for the catalogue, comprising $A38,000 plus a buyer’s premium.

The hammer went down on the sale being run by auction house Mossgreen, in Armadale, Victoria, on November 2, marking the 85th anniversary of Phar Lap’s 1930 Melbourne Cup win.

The catalogue documents the sale of the champion racehorse to American businessman David J. Davis on the advice of Sydney-based trainer Harry Telford.

The “Annual New Zealand Thoroughbred Yearling Sales” catalogue for January 24, 1928, lists the “chestnut colt” for sale as Lot 41. The auctioneer noted in his own hand that the horse had been sold to “Davis of Sydney”.

Phar Lap was bred near 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.

Telford received a copy of the catalogue and was struck by the colt’s breeding. He did not have enough money to buy the animal so approached Davis to provide the funds.

Davis agreed on the condition that Harry Telford’s brother, Hugh, 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. His win in the 1930 Melbourne Cup, in the midst of the Depression, elevated him to the status of national hero.

The National Museum’s Phar Lap-related collection includes the gelding’s heart and a photographic album that once belonged to Davis.

Phar Lap was listed in the 1928 catalogue as an unnamed chestnut colt.
Phar Lap was listed in the 1928 catalogue as an unnamed chestnut colt.

Museum’s director Mathew Trinca said the catalogue marked the start of Phar Lap’s astonishing career and was 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.”

The auction house put a pre-auction estimate on the catalogue of $A20,000 to $A30,000, but acknowledged it was almost impossible to value.

“While we’re not aware of the existence of any other catalogues from the sale at the Trentham Racecourse on 24 January 1928, we have the only official auctioneer’s catalogue that was consigned to us by his family,” said Max Williamson, the firm’s head of sporting memorabilia.

“This is ‘ground zero’ of the Phar Lap legacy and everything that followed. His life on the race tracks of Australia and the United States, his death and the controversy that remained unanswered for a generation, began with this catalogue.”

The auctioneer had kept the sales catalogue, and when Phar Lap won his first race, he wrote “Phar Lap” and then the name of the race on the cover.

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