Phar Lap vs Secretariat, Which is Better?

Even if you’re not that interested in horse racing, there’s still a very high probability that you must have heard of these very popular horse breeds. Almost everybody has their view on which is the greater horse of the two.

In this article, we will look at both horse breeds and what the key differences are.


Phar Lap

Phar Lap was born on the 4th of October, 1926, was a champion New Zealand-bred Thoroughbred racehorse often referred to as the greatest New Zealand racehorse. Originally, he was born in New Zealand. However, his training and subsequent races were in Australia and it’s not surprising in the least that the Australians took him as one of their own.

He was sired by Night Raid – who was also the sire of Nightmarch, the Melbourne Cup winner of 1929. Phar Lap also had seven horses as siblings, although none of them emerged as winners of any principal stakes race. In addition, he had four half-siblings. Of the four, only two emerged as winners of any kind of race. This just shows how incredible Phar Lap’s achievements were.


Phar Lap Vs Secretariat


Phar Lap was born as a thoroughbred. Reports suggest that he was an unattractive colt and his owner even declined to pay for his training. Even with this, he still grew to become an exceptional horse that reached more than 17 hands while also retaining his slender build. Even with this, he was still able to hold significant weight while effortlessly winning races.

In the four years that Phar Lap raced, he won 37 races out of the 51 he participated in.

One of the more popular wins was a victory at the 1930 Melbourne Cup. Additionally, in that year and the next (1931), he managed a 14-race winning streak. If you take his win at St. Leger till his last race, Phar Lap was victorious in 32 of his last 35 races. Also, of the three races, he didn’t win, he still managed to finish second in two of them. At the start of this streak at St. Leger Stakes, he was three years old.

See also  Arabian Types of Horses

In his last race, the prize fund on offer was the largest in North American horse racing at the time. This didn’t faze Phar Lap as he emerged victorious in record time.

The death of Phar Lap is surrounded by a lot of controversies. On the 5th of April, 1932, the horse was experiencing severe pain and also had a high temperature. He, unfortunately, passed away some hours after. Speculation was rife that he was poisoned with intent – most likely by gangsters who wanted to protect illegal bookies. However, this has not been proven to this day.

In previous years, horses were given Arsenic as a tonic which might explain why large amounts of it were found in the system of Phar Lap. The fact remains that we will truly not know the main reason for his death or the people involved (if it was really an assassination).

The National Museum in Australia is home to Phar Lap’s heart which is on display there. His heart weighed an incredible 14lb while the heart of an average horse weighs only half of that (7lb). There is actually some controversy about this because it has been reported that Phar Lap’s actual heart was dissected during autopsy and that the heart on display is from a draught horse.



Secretariat was an American Thoroughbred that was born on the 30th of March, 1970. He was deliberately bred out of racing stock. Bold Ruler, his sire, was deemed North America’s leading sire for three consecutive years (1963 to 1969) and once more in 1973.

He was an attractive and well-built colt. He embarked on his very first steps when he was only 30 minutes old. This undoubtedly paved the way for him to stand out – and that he duly did.

See also  Can Thoroughbreds Compete in Barrel Racing?

His growth was exceptional and he stood at 16.2 hands. He was well built even as a colt and it remained so even when he grew up. As well as his powerful hindquarters, he was popular for his stride biomechanics and near-pristine conformation.

He also had a large chest which was so peculiar that he needed to wear custom-made girths. This subsequently improved his success during races as a large girth usually translates to incredible capacity of the heart and lungs. This in turn proves influential during long-distance races as Secretariat was able to complete races like these at top speed.


Phar Lap Vs Secretariat


This particular horse was blessed with a prestigious and lengthy career on the tracks as he won 16 of the 21 races he participated in during his career. In addition to this, he also finished second on three different occasions as well as third once. All these undoubtedly led to him winning so much money for a host of different owners, jockeys, and trainers. He is also a thoroughbred millionaire – which makes him one out of a mere thirteen.

In 25 years, Secretariat was the only Triple Crown winner and his record-shattering performance at Belmont Stakes – where he emerged victorious by a jaw-dropping 31 lengths – is regarded as one of history’s greatest ever races. In the course of his career, Secretariat won 5 Eclipse Awards – which included Horse of the Year when he was only two and three years old. In 1974, he was announced as a nominee of the National Museum of Racing as well as the Hall of Fame.

He was three years old when he won the Triple Crown – also setting speed records in these three races. To put this achievement in context, his record at the Kentucky Derby has yet to be broken.

Secretariat subsequently retired and became a stud. During this period, he sired as much as 663 foals. Of this number, 341 were winners while 54 were stakes winners. On the other hand, some critics have referred to him as a stallion. This is due to the fact that he didn’t have a male offspring that was also blessed with his ability. However, his legacy lived on through his daughters with many of them becoming racers while a select few of them gave birth to foals.

See also  Quarter Horse vs Thoroughbred, Key Differences

Unfortunately, in 1989, Secretariat was struck down by laminitis. He was subsequently euthanized on the 4th of October of that same year. He was 19 years old. Although his heart wasn’t actually weighed, an estimation puts it around 22lb – which is 2.5 times bigger than the heart of an average horse.

Most likely, this is as a result of the theory which suggests that Thoroughbreds with abnormally large hearts are better racers. This theory was actually traced to one of the ancestors in Secretariat’s dam line.


Phar Lap Vs Secretariat

Secretariat and Phar Lap were both successful racing horses during their respective careers. They have both been celebrated with museum exhibitions, postage stamps, and even statues. Both these horses are remembered as being kind and hard-working with pristine temperaments.

Even though Secretariat is most likely the faster horse and holds a host of track records up to this day, Phar Lap would be right up there when comparing. Given that the space between their careers was more than three decades, we were never privileged to see them race against each other.

What this means is that we can never really know who was the better horse.

All we’re left with is a history of their greatness and a handful of burning questions. What would have happened if Phar Lap’s life hadn’t been ended abruptly? Would Secretariat have partaken and won more races if he had not retired to sire foals?

We’ll never really know.