TV3 showed with an item midweek that Phar Lap is still the horse name which pushes the most emotional buttons in New Zealand, even though he is basically a great Australian racehorse. This was a typical beat-up.
The Phar Lap legend was about to gain a great boost in North America apparently because a 75cm statue, by sculptor Joanne Sullivan Gessler, was to be part of the American Academy of Equine Arts exhibition, also a sale in Kentucky. Sullivan Gessler, a former South African now in New Zealand has the contract to do a full-sized statue of Phar Lap for Timaru when the money is raised a project TV3 seems to plug regularly.
The usual stuff followed. Old photos and films. The sculptor made the acceptance of her entry sound like an invitation to tea at Buckingham Palace and implied it was accepted because of the identity of the subject. Americans would no doubt have been surprised to learn that Phar Lap "helped inspire them during the Great Depression". It is a safe bet that 99.7 per cent of the Yanks had never, in fact, even heard of the horse. He only had one start in North America. More interesting was what we were not told. Sullivan Gessler has already had several previous works exhibited by the AAEA. That is hardly surprising for she is not only a member of the Academy but an also a member of its board. Phar Lap just happens to be the subject and while some experts may be able to name a specific racehorse from looking at a sculpture your average art fan would have no show.
In short a growth in a legend which does not actually exist outside Australasia seems unlikely in Kentucky. Having seen the life-like mounted hide of Phar Lap in Melbourne which was done in America in 1932, I admit a statue does not really do it for me.
Also in Kentucky is a state-funded horse farm and a home for retired champion racehorses, where tourists and fans can get to seem them live all in one place on one day.
What a great idea that would be here. I wish TV3 would get behind a great horse project like that in New Zealand, like they get behind statues of them.