"PHAR LAP WAS POISONED"
WOODCOCK BREAKS SILENCE AFTER FOUR YEARS Fears-Threats-Dramatic Admission by Gang Leader
AFTER four years of silence, Tommy Woodcock, who took the mighty Phar Lap to America in quest of further laurels, has lifted the veil that shrouded the mystery of the noble thoroughbred's death.
No one can speak with the same intimacy of the great horse as Woodcock; not even the part owners, or Jim Pike who rode the 'Red Terror' in most of his gallant victories. Woodcock knew Phar Lap, and Phar Lap not only knew Wood cock, but he demanded by intelligent actions, looks and sounds that Woodcock spend his waking and sleeping hours within reach of his nostrils. They were inseparable. This Goliath of equines, massive and mighty of speed, was the plaything of schemers, gangsters and murderers. Phar Lap was wilfully poisoned. He died, as he lived — literally in Woodcock's arms. | In this first chapter of his story of the life of Phar Lap, Woodcock will relate the circumstances of the champion's tragic end.
By TOMMY WOODCOCK PHAR LAP was my pal. It is with reluctance that I tell of that dreadful day at Menlo Park, as the memory of his tragic end is one I would sooner forget. I. have refused more than once to un- burden my soul, because, somehow, I was never able to feel in the right frame of mind. However, now that I have de - cided to speak, I trust readers will accept my story for what it is— the plain, ungarnished truth. I was placed in charge of a super horse who was a menace to owners and trainers of other horses — and to bookmakers as well. Phar Lap was a marked horse, whose life, through gal lant deeds, was forfeit. The more at tention he attracted from evildoers and a loving public, the more attached I became to him. I was away from him for four days only from the day he won the Victoria Derby until he died. I ate and slept with him. He went frantic if I was out of sight for a moment. Thus you will understand me when I say I write of him with feeling.
Danger From Beginning The care and attention betstowed on the champion in America by those of us who travelled with him succeeded only in keeping Phar Lap alive to ful fil his mission — the big race at Agua Caliente. His life was in danger from the moment he landed in America, and his interrupted preparation (brought about by a cracked hoof) was the only reason he was allowed to live and run in that race. Gangsters with a knowledge of rac ing thought it impossible for a horse to win the Mexican classic without a solid preparation. They laid heavily against him, and lost further money on Dr. Freeland and others in the race. Human lives counted nothing to those of the doping gang, and the life of a horse meant less. They succeeded in getting at Phar Lap with results known the world over, and his death numbed me from head to foot. How my blood boils to think how little such a noble animal meant to the gang that sentenced Phar Lap to death. I can't figure it out. Phar Lap, a name that came smoothly from the lips and struck magic everywhere, was marked down for destruction because he was really great — without a doubt a penalty that did not fit the crime. Americans called him the 'Wonder Horse,' the 'Red Terror,' and other names that lifted him high above the level of other champions. He was worthy of all the superlatives used by Americans. Strange to say those closely connected with Phar Lap did not employ anything but names of en dearment. To Jim Pike he was "Old Boy"; to part-owner D. J. Davis he was the 'Big Fellow'; but to Harry Telford and me he was just plain "Bobby".
Didn't Want His Sugar I venture to say that when this story concludes, readers will agree with me that no horse foaled was the centre ot so much limelight and intrigue as my «ig baby "Bobby." Imagine my plight on the saddest of all mornings in my life when I awak ened to find my charge uninterested in the lump of sugar I usually greeted him with. I knew immediately that something was wrong, and when he nosed up to me with his morning salute I felt his breath quite hot. I felt under his rug to find him steam ing. In a few seconds I had Bill Neilsen, the Newcastle veterinary surgeon, who was a member of our party, running the rule over Phar Lap. That was about 6 a.m. His pulse was wiry, and we both thought he had a touch of colic. Bill treated him and we felt that it was just a matter of the medi cine helping him to a quick recovery, Neilsen watched his temperature closely and when at about 11.30 a.m he found that it was 102, he gave the fatal verdict, "Tommy," said he, "this is hot colic; Phar Lap is poisoned." was rattled for the first time in my life. Neilsen told me to keep the horse on the move while he went away for as sistance.On no account was I to allow him to stop, but when Phar Lap had swollen to half his size again, anc was groaning in pain, I took him into the barn. He whinnied. He groaned. Demen tedly I rushed around to make hin comfortable. Coming towards me, he nosed affectionately under my arm. Then something inside him burst . . . he drenched me in blood, and fell dead at my feet. That was over four years ago. I have not got over the shock to this day.
Could Not Save Him Returning shortly after Phar Lap died. Bill Neilsen was distracted. His affection for the great horse could be understood. I overheard one of the leading veterinary authorities telling Neilsen that all the veterinary sur geons in America could not have saved Phar Lap if they had been with the horse from the moment it was noticed he was off colour. In the happenings after Phar Lap's death I took little interest, going about more or less in a trance. I knew in my heart that 'Bobby' was poi soned, and had a fair idea of the per petrator, but what was the use? Menlo Park, where Phar Lap died; was inun dated with analysts, inquiry agents, police, photographers, and pressmen. I
realised that to voice my suspicions would involve me in endless trouble; and nothing could bring back my big baby to me. The analysts engaged by Mr. Davis declared that there was not sufficient poison found in Phar Lap to kill him, but Government analysts said that there was enough arsenate of lead found to bring about his painful end. When my grief allowed me to think clearly, I went back over everything that happened after Phar Lap arrived in America. I pieced together every thing suspicious. I recalled all words of warning I had received, and from whom they came.
In my own mind I had fixed the perpetrator; but gangsters are not placed behind bars in the States on evidence as flimsy as what I had, and so I decided to keep my suspicions to myself. To have voiced them would have resulted in my following closely in the footsteps of the horse I loved. To tell the story of how I stumbled on the knowledge that Phar Lap was wilfully poisoned necessitates my going back to the first day we landed in Mexico. An Early Warning I had a letter of introduction to Jimmy Smith, a Canadian farrier, who went to Mexico each year for the 120 days' racing. Jimmy warned me to be careful of the dopers, who would nobble a horse in quick time. (Another instalment of the Phar Lap series will be published next week.)
"Watch Phar Lap's water and feed if you want to see him take his place in the big race,"was Smith's constant advice. Smith said he did not know the actual doper, but he knew that a gang made it a practice, and got re sults. Prom the outset I made it a rule never to allow Phar Lap out of my sight, and while he was out exercising one of our party remained at the barn to see that no one entered his stall. The Agua Caliente Club evidently knew the danger, as they put a big fat Mexican on duty outside the barn day and night. He was invariably asleep, with a blunderbuss type of gun on his knees. Every precaution was taken for the champion's safety. The only feed used was that brought from New Zealand, and I had water brought from Mexi can Springs in five-gallon jars. It cost a dollar a bottle, and the horse never tasted a drop before one member of our party tested it. Thousands of people flocked to see "the wonder horse from the Antipodes," among them being a daily admirer, a big nigger, whose infectious smile I thought the happiest I had ever seen. I think he was attached to the stable that sheltered Dr. Freeland, who com peted unsuccessfully against Phar Lap.
A Little Bird Aloft What my coloured friend didn't know about Agua Caliente wasn't worth knowing, and he put me wise to a number of tricks that otherwise would have had me guessing for some time. He told me that there was a little bird in the grandstand that was not in a cage. The little "bird" was a docker, paid to time any fast work done by Phar Lap. He was in the employ of men who made racing a racket. "When the bird goes to pick a little seed, come and strut your stuff," advised Rastus. Rastus saw Phar Lap run four fur longs in 48sec one morning, and he was a good enough judge to know that the task was done without effort. As I was attending the horse after the gallop, Rastus came up, and, with a grin, said, "My God, 'ow that 'oss can run!" He went on to tell me that there were men in Mexico who would injure Phar Lap if they knew how good he was. I was impressed with his seriousness and perturbed at what the old chap told me.
A Choice Lot A flashly-dressed fellow who had been hanging around our barn for a few days was pointed out to, me by Jastus, who said he knew him as "The Brazilian," and that he had the repu tation of being a killer. On the Sunday before the Aqua Cali ente Handicap, Phar Lap earned 5000 dollars for cantering down the straight. When I was waiting for him to return to the enclosure. I noticed "The Brazil ian" with the toughest-looking bunch of men I have seen. From an American trainer with whom I was friendly, I inquired who they were, and I was not pleased to hear that they were men who knew no code of honour. My friend de clared them a gang to be feared who made racing a racket that paid, even at the expense of human life. One of Phar Lap's hoofs had split during exercise. It was bound up, and I noticed the gang watching him closely as he came into the enclosure. He was using the leg tenderly, and, of course, they didn't fail to notice this. When Phar Lap won the Aqua Cali ente Handicap, fulfilling the mission for which he had set out, I was much relieved. There was a fearful din as he passed the post, and above it all. I heard angry words behind me. On looking round I saw the gang, and it was evident that some one was telling 'The Brazilian' off. The only words I caught were uttered by the little rat who screeched out that Phar Lap won the race on three legs. We packed our traps a few days later and journeyed to Tantoran, about 600 miles away, end, believe. me, I. was glad to see the end of Mexico.
That Face Again With the big race over I was in clined to relax a bit. We were a few days only at Menlo Park, when who should I see snooping around but "The Brazilian." Straightaway I was on my guard, and never left Phar Lap, although I must admit I did not think it necessary to police the barn while the horse was out exercising. A few days later Phar Lap died of poisoning. I had little to go on and my sus picions were not worth ventilating. But I lay awake at night thinking of Phar Lap and "The Brazilian." It was sacrilege to even couple them In thought, but I was certain that he had played a part in robbing the world of its greatest racehorse. A few days after the sad happen ing, Mr. Willis Sharpe Kilmer, owner of Sun Beau, the world's record stake winner, came and offered me a post as trainer, and I accepted a lucrative retainer of which I will tell more later. For Mr. Kilmer I had, among others, Sunmelus, who was being pre pared for the Derby, a race much cov eted by the millionaire owners and others in the States.
Nervy and all on edge since the death of my pal, I was giving all my time to Sunmelus, being really glad, to have something to occupy , my mind and so keep out thoughts of the ter rible tragedy. One afternoon, when alone in the barn with Sunmelus, I heard someone outside, and on looking up, I nearly died of heart failure. There was "The Brazilian" in the doorway. He ap peared to be taken aback. Evidently he was looking for someone else. I flew into a passion and rushed to the door, but he scarcely heeded my out burst. "Get out, you murdering thief, or I'll pitchfork you," I called out. With his right hand in his coat pocket, he entered the barn, and snarled: "Another word from you and I'll drill you full of lead." I was scared and speechless. I al most collapsed on a bundle of straw while he stood over me in threaten ing attitude and told me that if I thought I could come to America and upset his gang's plans I had another think coming,
The Truth is Out Then I was certain that my sus picions about Phar Lap's death, were well founded, but I was not prepared to hear the cool admission of a des perado who looked as though he would stop at nothing. Threatening me with an early visit if he heard of my squealing, he backed to the door, and his parting words were: "I would have drilled you the night I fixed Phar Lap if you'd wakened." I was on the verge of a breakdown. The shock of Phar Lap's death and the admission of the gangster were too much for me. I had not slept for more than three hours a night since landing in America, and after the Agua Caliente race, was taking aspirin before going to bed. Months of mental and physical strain had me tired out, and I slept soundly at Menlo Park as a consequence. My devotion to Phar Lap was in a way responsible for his death. Tired and run-down, I took aids to sleep, and while I slept it no doubt was easy for "The Brazilian" to mix poison with Phar Lap's food. His ghastly admission made it evident. What was I to do? I had elected to stay in America. I knew that uncor roborated evidence against Phar Lap's slayer would make my position unten able, and so I decided to keep my own counsel, as nothing could repair the loss of the famous thoroughbred. Not even the convicting of a murderous gangster. That is the true story of Phar Lap's death, and what I've told might also explain the reason I was glad when the American immigration authorities said: — "Woodcock, your six months' stay is up."