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Derby Day

By Tommy Woodcock—Exclusive     to "The Mercury" in Tasmania.    

— Copyright      

Phar Lap  


Tommy Woodcock  

I SHUDDER even now when I

think of the terrible Satur- day morning. You might think that I am telling a fib when I say I expected the shooting attempt, but I am not. I expected any- thing to happen. It was made clear that his victory in the Cup would occasion some people un- told worry, and I knew that there were men in Melbourne who would not stop at maiming the horse to relieve them of their obligations. The only way they could maim him was to shoot him, so close was the guard on him, and it would have to be a shot at long range as little oppor- tunity was afforded anyone of getting close to him.

I WAS suspicious ot my own shadow

and expected danger to he lurking round every corner.

When returning to J. Cripps' stables from the Caulfield tracks on Derby morning my attention was attracted to a motor-car standing in a street off Glenhuntly Rd. The number plate was whitewashed or chalked, and this had me on guard immediately.

A Change of Route

Usually I left the course by way of Rosebery Grove, but on this particular morning I went home via Manchester

Grove. I came up behind the car,   whose occupants no doubt were looking   down towards Rosebery Grove, expect-   ing to see Phar Lap cross Glenhuntly   Rd. from this direction.  

As I passed I caught sight of     the man in the back seat. The driver buried his face in a paper.

Their presence, the chalked car  

number, and their anxiety to dodge be-   ing seen had me alarmed.  

When I passed over the Glenhuntly   Rd. tram track and wus a short dis-   tance from them I heard the car being   started up. I looked round, and on   finding that they were coming in my   direction, I dig my heels into the pony   I was riding and trotted Phar Lap round   a corner where I got him against the   fence and waited to see what would  


With the horn tooting loudly, the   car swung round the corner and the

driver, seeing us standing, tried to   swerve into us. The car, however,   had too much momentum.

Phar Lap became excited, reared up     and faced the other way about.

Lucky for him he did so, as the back seat passenger poked out a

double barrelled shot gun and  

fired point blank. The pellets  

were embedded in the picket fence   where Phar Lap had been stand-


The shooter had the lower portion   of his face covered with a handker- chief, but it dropped as he fired, and I got a second view of him. I could     pick him out of a million.

I nearly dropped in my tracks with surprise when I saw him on a racecourse some months later and found out who he was.

It was all over in a second. They didn't stop to fire a second shot. The shooting took place at 5.40 a.m., and with the report of the gun and the honking of the horn it was not long be- fore heads were appearing out of gates and windows. In the meantime the car bandits had careered off in the direction of Elsternwick, and I doubt if they knew what damage had been done.

How they must have cursed them- selves for their poor marksmanship when they saw the handsome gelding cantering in at the head of the Mel- bourne Stakes field later in the day.

The owner of Phar Lap, Mr. D. J. Davis, heard that an attempt would be made to injure the horse before the Melbourne Cup. After the shooting two policemen were stationed within a few feet of the horse until he fulfilled his engagement in the Melbourne Stakes, the guard being renewed while the horse was in his stable at Caul- field on the Saturday night after the


We Steal Silently Away

Mr. H. G. Raymond, of the Victorian Racing Club committee, made a nice gesture to our stable on Derby Day, when he offered to make his property, St. Albans, near Geelong, available as  

a hiding place for Phar Lap. Being a lover of horses and clean sport he was anxious to see the hottest Melbourne Cup favourite on record get his chance of showing what he could do under the heavy impost of 9.12. The offer was gladly accepted.

While Melbourne slept a strange scene was enacted at the stables of Mr. J. Cripps at Caulfield. Shadowy forms flitted about the stables as bags full of straw were thrown on the ground to deaden the sound of Phar Lap and his companion moving out of the yard.  

Only Mr. Cripps and his foreman, L. Church, knew of the moonlight flit, and with. Harry Telford they stood in the shadows at the street corner after the horses were loaded.

At first we intended to hire a float which I was to drive, but Stan. Boy- den, who always drove Phar Lap to the races, was trusted implicitly, and we decided that it was one man's job to look after Phar Lap without having the responsibility of handling a strange

horse float

We were all nervy and "jumpy," and when Telford handed Boyden and me pistols, we looked at each

other in amazement.

"Dick Turpin would look silly along side us, Tommy," said Boyden in a burst of levity.

I was in too serious a mood for job ing that morning, but Boyden can al- ways get a laugh out of me when we meet now-a-days.

Few knew that Phar Lap was taken away from Caulfield, and fewer still his destination.

The lovable creature must have won- dered at his nocturnal ride and I think his backers for the big race on the fol- lowing Tuesday would have been per- turbed if they had known that the Cup favourite was speeding past the G.P.O. Melbourne at 2 a.m., headed in the direction of Mr. Raymond's property.

With the aid of lumps of sugar I was able to take Phar Lap's mind com- pletely off the trip. By showing him a piece of lump sugar I could tease him for hours. He would put his tongue out and I would grab it. Then he would try to nip me, but he knew that I kept up the foolery all the longer if he hurt


But while playing with my big baby pal I was as "windy" as could be.

I had imaginitis badly and could not settle down to a comfortable trip. Every shadow seemed to me like a figure   pointing a gun in our direction.

When on the lonely road past Werribee a man stood in the middle of the road and hailed us, I thought the worst had happened. Instantly

IT seems incredible that anyone in a civilised country should want     to destroy such a noble beast as Phar Lap. All of you no doubt       remember the shooting episode enacted on the morning of the 1930     Victoria Derby. As Phar Lap was being taken home after his morning     exercises at Caulfield a car that had been standing in the vicinity for     some time bore down upon him. A shot rang out. Phar Lap, luckily,     swung round out of the line of fire.     No more dramatic incident has ever occurred in the history of     Australian racing. Tommy Woodcock, who was in charge of Phar Lap,     plainly saw the man who fired the shot and recognised him some months     later when he walked on to one of the metropolitan racecourses. "I     nearly dropped dead in my tracks when I saw him and found out who     he was," says the great thoroughbred's devoted attendant.    

Boyden and I dived into our pockets  

for the firearms, but we were not  

the slickest on the draw and I must    

admit that a hold-up man could have had the drop on us.  

As it turned out, the man who hailed us was only looking for a lift. He didn't know how near he was to getting a few bullets fired at him.

The champion travelled contentedly, more so than his companion, and by 4 a.m. he was comfortable in his new surroundings. A remarkable tempera- ment enabled him to adapt himself to new environment without any fuss. He recovered from his shooting scare al- most as soon as it happened and in about the same time was over his early morning dash from Melbourne to St.


Resting on the Sunday morning until 7.30, the champion grazed contentedly in one of the paddocks till lunch time. The remainder of the day he spent in his box, and when night fell we were all at high tension again.

A Prowler in the Night

I slept in the box with Phar Lap, but being a light sleeper stirred at the slightest sound.

About 10 o'clock I heard footsteps outside and a voice asked: "Are you all right, Woodcock?" It was Mr. Ray- mond. I think he came round every hour and if anyone wants a reference as to his thoroughness as a nightwatch man, I can give it.

Phar Lap had no visitors on Sunday or Monday. The secret of his where abouts was well kept.

A little walking and trotting exercise round the old track on the property filled in Monday and another unevent- ful night passed, the silence being broken only by the hourly visits of Mr. Raymond, who was making sure that his promise of immunity for Phar Lap

was fulfilled.

On Cup morning I took Phar Lap   through the back gate on to the Gee- long racecourse, and with R. Parker in   the saddle he sprinted three furlong with one of Mr. Raymond's horse which I rode. Returning to St. Albans I dressed the champion for the day and then rested until the float came at 11 o'clock to take us to Flemington.

We had plenty of time, but it was a

nightmare ride for me. I had visions of the float breaking down or coming into collision with some other vehicle. As convoy, we had two police motor cycle patrols, one in front and the other behind the float. A big wireles patrol car also joined in to make sure

that the horse arrived at Flemington


The V.R.C. committee gave permis- sion for the float to enter the course by the members' drive, and so the little procession arrived intact and in good time to allow Phar Lap to get his land


While Phar Lap and I were rusticat-

ing at St. Albans all sorts of rumours were current about his stable having been bombed. Another canard was that he was poisoned.

Excitement at Flemington

When he paraded in the Flemington birdcage the crowd literally rushed him, and I took his attention by show- ing him a lump of sugar and then put- ting it back in my pocket. I heard one woman say, "Phar Lap is trying to bite the man's coat." The cunning gelding was trying to get his nose into my poc- ket; he knew that I kept a stock of sugar for him and he looked for it before and after his races.

Even as I walked my pal around the enclosure, with an admiring crowd looking on, I was apprehensive of some- one making a last minute bid to put the great horse out of commission, though I suppose I need not have worried then, for I am sure now that lt any individual had attempted any villainy with Phar Lap on the course that afternoon he would have been torn limb from limb.

There is no need to tell how the 80,000 persons at Flemington cheered Phar Lap as he thundered down the straight with the Cup in his keeping. Did ever a thoroughbred have to brave so many dishonest elements to win a


The police thought that the shoot- ing episode was enacted more with the idea of frightening him into bolting than actually killing him. It was a crime whichever way you look at it.

No one is in a better position than I to say that the shooting was as seriously meant as the bribing at-


A Substitute—But Not a Twin

If we saw only the serious side of things life would be dull. There was real comedy in the spiriting away of the champion. It was arranged that when he went to St. Albans another horse of Telford's was to take Phar Lap's place, and a big chestnut named Old Ming was selected for the job.

On the Monday morning clothed in Phar Lap's well-known rugs and wear-

ing heavy bandages, Old Ming was led on to the track, and after doing light exercise, such as would be expected from one who had raced on the Satur- day, the horse pulled up at the exact   sport where we (the grey pony and my- self) always met "Bobby." If anyone present had any doubt it was dispel- led when they saw the horse getting his handful of grass, just as his illustrious stablemate did. Old Ming must have wondered why such a fuss was being made of him.

Some people were annoyed at Harry Telford's deception in working a horse as Phar Lap, as it made them look fool- ish when they broadcast the news that Phar Lap had an easy task that morn-


One newspaper man gained admit- tance to Cripps' stable on the Sunday following the shooting incident and   when shown the horse deputising for Phar Lap he was asked how the big fellow looked. "Never better," he answered. "But if that horse lives to be a hundred he'll never be able to run seven furlongs as fast as Phar Lap can run a mile."  

That statement must have been a shock to some of the people present   who thought Old Ming was Phar Lap. Telford, in my opinion, was justified  

in adopting any means at all for the safety of the horse that was entrusted   with so much public money.    

Big Task is Accomplished

Well, the Cup was won and the im-  

mediate connections of Phar Lap were overjoyed. None more so than Jim Pike. Jim had landed the coveted race after 14 attempts and I venture to say that to win on a horse that travelled 50 miles by float to carry him to victory gave him added pleasure.

The Cup was worth £9,229 and a gold cup valued at £200.

As Harry Telford had Phar Lap on lease, and was the nominator of the horse, he became the owner of the valu-

able cup.

Before Phar Lap's 1930 Melbourne Cup the racing authorities became scared of the gang who showed so little regard for valuable racehorses that they brought in a rule making it in- cumbent on trainers to have an at- tendant with their horses all the time they are on a racecourse.

Several persons had the impression that the shooting at Phar Lap was just a scare story. English papers pub- lished that it was a publicity stunt. Strangely enough, the "Sport- ing Globe's" track representa- tive at Caulfield, Mr. Jim Creed, saw the car while on his way to the track, and, becoming suspicious took a note of the painted number plates. He remarked to his pals on arrival at the course that he would not be surprised to hear that someone had had a crack at the safes at the bank or picture theatre in Glenhuntly Rd. that morning. Little did he think at the time that the car was dwelling on the idol of the Australian turf.

In his next article, on Wednes- day, Woodcock will tell how Tel-

ford bought a half share in Phar