Harry Telford and Sky Flash

8 Oct

1 October, 2011 at 22:41

Good Evening

Harry Telford made a living from training horses— or just about made a living. You see he wasn’t a very good trainer and more and more owners had moved elsewhere. He only had a few horses left.

Then he heard about the colt for sale. He persuaded one of his owners to buy it at auction without ever seeing it. Yes it had a pedigree—of a sort — but the horse would be a full brother to seven horses none of which would ever set the heather on fire even in minor races. He was also a half-brother to another 4 horses, two of which could not win any type of race at all let alone minor ones. So the pedigree didn’t stand scrutiny.

Worse was to come on the day the horse was delivered from auction. There was an awkward silence when the horse was brought out of the box. Then the owner went nuts. One look at the horse– one examination —- that was all it took– and he declared that he would never pay to have this horse trained. He was furious; He was for sacking Telford on the spot. Anyone could see that this horse had problems. The beast was big. Gangly. Out of proportion. Walked awkwardly and had a face that was covered in warts. This was not a racehorse at all; it was a patient for a vet.

In an attempt to save his career and reputation, Telford offered to train the horse for nothing in return— for say— two thirds of any winnings. The owner was still not sure but reluctantly agreed. Legally, Telford agreed to lease the horse for a three year period.

In an attempt to make something of the beast Telford immediately had the colt gelded. He argued that it was worth giving up stud rights just to ensure that the colt concentrated on racing. However he could do nothing about the horse’s gait and general clumsy appearance, he was just glad that he had some horses to train– even this one!

The horse, ironically, was called sky flash which was a reference to lightning, but it seemed anything but lightning quick. You hear of people who can tell things about a horse– like horse whisperers and so on. In this case no such legend would be true as Telford had only agreed to train the horse so that he could keep his job– he was not to know that this particular horse had a secret. A secret which was to remain hidden for many— many— years!

So Telford trained the horse and eventually stuck it in a race– and guess what? Yea you guessed— it was– last! …………By a long way.

It appeared that this big bugger of a horse just could not run. A further three races followed and even though the class of field got lower and lower oul sky flash could not finish in the top three.

Then the unthinkable happened. The big ugly horse was stuck into a maiden handicap over 5 and a half furlongs with a 6.11 weight. An apprentice jockey called Jack Baker was thrown on for the ride and amazingly he brought the horse in for a win!

The competition wasn’t great right enough and it proved to be a flash in the pan as in the next few races the big horse was nowhere near the front by the end. Telford stuck at it though, and entered the horse in a longer race– 9 furlongs this time with a biggish weight to carry. The horse came in second– much to everyone’s amazement.

From that moment on the horse became a phenomenon. Having lost 8 times, the horse would go on to win a total of 37 times out of 51 starts over a mere 4 year period. He ran and won over an amazing range of distances– 8 furlongs,9 furlongs, 9 and a half, 10 furlongs, 12 furlongs, 14 furlongs, 2 miles and on and on.

More amazing still was the weight he was asked to carry in an attempt to stop him. 7.8 kg,7.11kg,8.3kg,8.4kg,8.5kg,8.10kg,9.5kg, 9.7kg, 10.5kg.

Eventually the horse was so successful that various attempts were made by Gangsters to shoot it. When it lost, it lost by only a short head or a nose. Over a three year period it won 33 out of 35 races, and it famously lost one race when between jockey and weights it was carrying a thundering 10stone 10lbs (68kg) around a two mile track.

Now you may wonder why you have never heard of Sky flash the wonder horse? Well that would be because, while that was the name of the horse it was actually named by the son of a Chinese immigrant who spoke Zhuang or Thai, and in that language the words for lightening or “sky flash” is Far Lap. Telford, being superstitious, changed the name to Phar lap so that the “lucky” horse would have a lucky seven letter name.

A Lucky number 7 so to speak.

For those of you who do not know the story of Phar lap, the horse won the Melbourne Cup and all sorts of other major races in Australia between 1929 and 1931. Phar lap always retained an unusual gangling running style, and tended to hold back in races coming at the end with a long breath taking run. The Big ugly horse became so famous that a challenge was issued to take it to America and race there to see if it was really any good, as the Americans took the view that unless it he could win there then he really didn’t have class.

The owner, who had been so angry on seeing the ugly beast, was after all an American. By this time trainer Telford had won enough money to buy a half share in the horse. He didn’t agree with the big red horse going to the states, but was persuaded to let the horse compete in the richest race in North American horseracing history–The Agua Caliente handicap in Tijuana Mexico. Telford however did not travel.

Betting on the wonder horse was furious. He was saddled with ever more weight and when taken together with the jockey Billy Elliot the horse was asked to carry a total of 129 pounds or 58.8 kgs. By the time the race finished, Phar lap had broken the track record and won out of sight. It would prove to be the last time” Big Red” would ever race.

Within days of that race it was rumoured that the horse would stay in the states. Within the week the big ugly Horse with warts and all— was dead!

No one knew for sure what happened. Phar lap was discovered with a high temperature and in severe pain one morning, and a few hours later the wonder horse passed away. Some said that he had contracted a disease that went unnoticed; others said that the horse had been poisoned by gangsters who feared huge losses at their illegal bookmakers, but that couldn’t be proven.

However, on 19th June 2008 the University of Melbourne released the findings of a detailed autopsy and other examinations which included analysis of hair from the horse’s mane. These results showed that in the 30-40 hours before the horse’s death he had somehow been fed a massive dose of Arsenic! Whilst not conclusive, it strongly suggests that the big horse was indeed murdered.

Later however that theory was cast in doubt as the stable boy accepted that he had given the horse an Arsenic based cure for the temperature ( a common remedy in those days)—and possibly got the dosage wrong

At the time of his death Phar Lap was the third highest earning racehorse in the world– and that after only 3-4 years of racing.

He had been foaled in New Zealand and his skeleton is to be found there in the national museum in Wellington. His hide was stuffed and is on exhibit in the Melbourne museum.

Was he the greatest horse ever? Well, horses are like boxers, they are of their time and moment. Mill Reef, Man o War, Secratariat, Nijinsky, Sea Biscuit, Red Rum, Desert Orchid, and Shergar amongst others all have a claim. He was named as the 22nd best horse of the 20th century in the US– having run just that one race! Sea Biscuit won 37% of races ran, Phar Lap won 72.5% of his– over more distances and carrying ever greater weights.

I will leave you to judge and debate.

I said at the start that the big ugly horse had a secret. It is a secret that has been described as the single most amazing fact in any sport, and it is one that could never have been known or explained by any breeder or trainer, not even by the horse himself if he could have talked.

The average weight of the heart of a fully grown male horse is 3.2 kg. Phar lap’s heart weighed an astonishing 6.3 kgs or 13.6 lbs– almost a stone. It is the single biggest asked for item when visiting the National Museum of Australia.

Pharlap—the big ugly horse who, with warts and all, just kept on winning when he found his stride.

Just goes to show that if you have a big enough heart you can achieve the amazing or what is thought to be impossible– against all the odds— even if you are a horse!

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4 Responses to “Harry Telford and Sky Flash”

  1. Steve October 8, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Maybe Ally McCoist just needs a 10 stone jockey on his back then?

  2. Vinny Kelly October 25, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Another fantastic article in your recent canon of same. But no mention of Arkle ?? # best horse ever !!

  3. Ny Powerball January 6, 2017 at 11:26 pm #

    You should be a part of a contest for one of the most useful sites on the web.
    I will recommend this website!

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