Cindy Crank used to pick her children up at the bus stop in a pony-drawn sleigh.
The Canadian who grew up just outside Montreal, traces her “horse gene” back to a grandfather who owned racehorses. So she was afflicted with the horse bug throughout a childhood spent enjoying Pony Club and hunts, and well into adulthood, writing marketing materials for the equestrian world.
“I was smitten by the whole horse world!” says Crank, author of the new book, The Death of Phar Lap: The Unsolved Never Ending Mystery.”
Q: Cindy, why and how did you become interested in Phar Lap?
I write a blog for Horse Sport Publications group titled Horses and History so I did a blog on this ugly duckling horse Phar Lap who took the world by storm during the Great Depression and was then killed. Recently, I decided to expound on the blog and
create an e-book. I love a good mystery and you can’t help but love the underdog element of this story but in researching and by digging deeper, I found one last bizarre twist to the tale.
Q: In a nutshell, please describe the mystery that surrounded the death of the legendary racehorse?
After surviving an assassination attempt (probably by disgruntled bookies) and after winning all the major races in Australia and New Zealand, Phar Lap was shipped to the USA to race in the $50,000 Agua Caliente race in Mexico in 1932. He won this handily and was then shipped back to California. He died there under mysterious circumstances: was the mafia to blame, had he been poisoned by herbicides, had he been given to much Fowlers tonic that contained arsenic? Everybody had a theory but it was just a few years ago that there was one final stunning revelation that came forth and shocked the world.
Q: You’ve written a book on the subject. How does it differ from other works on Phar Lap, and what was your process in ferreting out the fact from rumor?
I think the difference in my book is that it includes this final piece of the puzzle that Phar Lap’s groom kept under wraps for decades and finally disclosed to his friend in 1982. This friend then kept it secret until a few years ago. Since Phar Lap died in 1932 and many of the people involved with him have also passed on, I did a lot of research online, looked at old film footage, read old newspaper accounts, looked at race results, and read Tommy Woodcock’s interviews in Australian newspapers. I guess that as a history enthusiast I read a lot and am aware of a lot of interesting bits and pieces whether they relate to horses or not.
Q: Why is Phar Lap’s story still relevant today?
The Phar Lap story encompasses many things that readers like no matter what the era: It is a mystery that just won’t go away, it is a “come from behind” rags to riches story, and finally it is a love story as the bond Phar Lap and Tommy Woodcock shared is pretty close to love.
Finally, it shows us how a horse raised the hopes and dreams of desperate people during desperate times.
People need something to cling to in times of trouble, and Phar Lap was that “something” during the Great Depression.
Author’s note— Cindy notes there is a free App to read Amazon Kindle books without need of buying the device. Here’s the link: Free Reading Apps.