Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster ones. But sooner or later, the one who wins is the one who thinks he/she/it can. - C. W. Longenecker.
History shows that every crisis brings about new opportunities and new heroes. They come at the right time, when the world needs them the most, and many also leave when their purpose is accomplished. Here is a story of one such hero.
He emerged at the beginning of The Great Depression (1929) when the unemployment rate in Australia had reached 30%. The people were emotionally drained and had lost all hope. He left in 1932, just when the depression was ending.
But what he did in-between those years, made all the difference and, 70 years after his premature death, he remains Australia’s national legend. With his tremendous spirit and heart of a champion, he injected the badly needed tonic of hope in despaired and discouraged nation by demonstrating that a plain old nobody, an average Joe, with a strong perseverance and drive can rise to the top even under the most difficult circumstances.
Conventional wisdom would associate Heroes with Humans. In the words of his trainer Harry Telford, “He was an Angel. A human being couldn’t have more sense. He was almost human; could do anything but talk.” But Phar Lap was a horse born in New Zealand.
His new owner in Australia thought that they had struck a bargain until they saw him when he arrived at the Sydney Harbor. Phar Lap’s face was covered with warts, he did not look well bred and did not show any sign of being a horse that can be a champion.
The owner Davis was furious and wanted to write him off as a bad investment and get rid of it. But Harry Tedford, the trainer, had faith in his selection and agreed to bear all cost of training in exchange for keeping him.
The rest is what history is made of. Harry, along with his assistant Tom Woodcock, raised Phar Lap with patience and love. Phar Lap lost first eight of the nine races. But after that, between September 1929 and April 1932, the period of the great depression, Phar Lap came first in 36 of the 41 races. He won every big race on the continent. In many of those races he was way behind until the last lap and emerged a winner.
As the next challenge, he was brought to America to compete against the best there. Despite a long and strenuous sea journey and severely injured hoof, Phar Lap won America’s richest race, Agua Caliente, in a record time while carrying 130 pounds.
As the fate would have it, a few days later, he died in Menlo Park, California (Silicon Valley of today) of severe stomach ailments. He left the entire Australian continent mourning.
Phar Lap had defied many odds, including attempts on his life, and brought hope and emotional uplift to a continent devastated by severe depression. He was the hero the people most needed, a common guy with humble beginnings but with a heart of a champion, who never gave up and triumphed during the greatest economic tragedy.
Credit goes to the manager Harry Telford and the coach Tom Woodcock for believing in Phar Lap, being patient with him in the initial stages, and helping the newcomer to realize his full potential instead of immediately writing him off as a bad investment as the owner intended to do.