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Title Image: Leaving Australia

In the weeks leading up to the Agua Caliente Handicap, Australians listened, watched and read anything they could on Phar Lap's progress.

 Phar Lap's pre-race trackwork, Agua Caliente

Once in California, all Tom Woodcock's efforts were focused on acclimatising Phar Lap. There was a lot riding on the outcome of the Agua Caliente; if Phar Lap lost, Woodcock would get paid nothing other than his expenses for the trip. Money, however, was never Woodcock's primary interest. He just wanted 'Bobby' to show the Americans what he was made of.

One might imagine then how Woodcock felt when 'Bobby' trode on a stone and injured his hoof, just weeks before the race timed for 20 March 1932.

Many Americans believed that claims of an injured hoof were baloney. They thought the Australians were simply talking down their champ's chances so they could get better odds. But Woodcock was genuinely worried. A piece was cut from Phar Lap's hoof and a special shoe made to bridge the missing section.

Considering there were ten other entrants in the Agua Caliente Handicap, the American media was surprisingly absorbed in Phar Lap. The 'Anzac Antelope' was one of the more absurd of the several nicknames he was given.

As he had been instructed before departing Australia, Woodcock kept the champs toughest pre-race trackwork a secret so that the odds would stay good. A photograph taken at the Agua Caliente racetrack, dated 13 March, proves that Phar Lap was given a workout exactly one week before the race.

Tom Woodcock's letter to a young American fan. Museum Victoria Collection.

A young American fan

Many Americans took great interest in Phar Lap in the lead up to the Agua Caliente Handicap.

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