Phar Lap, easily the most recognisable name in Australian racing history, was the force majeure with which to be reckoned in the late 20s and early 30s, but there was another most formidable horse that was foaled in 1928, two years after Phar Lap, that achieved an equal number of W. S. Cox Plate wins. Combined with Phar Lap, Chatham’s two wins in 1932 and 1934 meant that betwixt 1930 and 1934, those two won four out of five Cox Plates, with 1933 being the exception.
When those two met in the 1931 Cox Plate, Phar Lap was the clear winner over second-place Chatham, but he left no doubt as to the legitimacy of his presence alongside the legendary horse when the two matched up on the Moonee Valley racecourse.
Here is a look at the lineage, racing and stud career of the horse that lived somewhat in Phar Lap’s shadow, but nonetheless was not completely overshadowed.
Chatham was foaled in 1928 at the Kia Ora Stud in New South Wales, near the town of Scone, part of the Hunter Region that is often referred to as the Horse Capital of Australia. The breeder was Percy Miller who had six years previous contributed Amounis to the world of thoroughbred racing. The two shared lines, as Amounis’s sire, Magpie, was grandsire to Chatham.
Chatham’s sire was Windbag, just seven years senior to Chatham, was a capable stayer that won 18 times, half his starts, including the 1925 AJC Cumberland Stakes and the 1926 AJC Autumn Stakes.
Chatham’s dam was a good producer named Myosotis that was the granddaughter of the 1899 British Triple Crown winner, Flying Fox.
A little further back, undefeated Grand Flaneur appears on Chatham’s distaff side.
Trainer Ike Foulsham made the wise decision to purchase Chatham at the 1930 Sydney yearling sales for what today would be roughly $1,400, a tidy sum, especially at a time when everyone was wondering where the next Phar Lap would come from, and even more so in light of the fact that the original price of 650 guineas for Chatham was over four times what had been paid for Phar Lap.
Chatham made 45 starts from 1931 to 1934. He was often given high weights, but that did not prevent him from becoming a great miler. He won 12 times at that distance, which was better than 50 percent of the 21 times he went that distance. Eighteen of his victories were principal races, coming as they did almost 50 years before the Group classification system was instituted. Overall, he is credited with 24 victories, although one of those, the Tramway stakes in 1932, resulted in a dead heat with Rogilla. Chatham added another dead heat, this one accounting for a second, the autumn of that season in the C.F. Orr Stakes, so actually, his record was 23-1/2, 6-1/2, and 1, with unplaced finishes making up the balance of the 45 starts.
As a three-year old, he secured his first win in his second start at Rosehill in 1931. He seemed to suffer from what appeared to be a respiratory issue that caused him to make a whistling sound when galloping. The true cause of his malady turned out to be caused by a defect in his kidneys and blood. The problem did not prevent him from making quite a few good showings and it could have been that his competitors, hearing the strange sound, got out of his way. He won the Craven Plate and the Linlithgow Stakes in 1931, after finishing second to Phar Lap in the Cox Plate and Johnny Jason in the VRC Derby.
In the autumn portion of the season, early in 1932, Chatham made seven starts, but won only once. Veterinary medicine being what it was at the time, he was spelled, underwent surgery and bloodletting, and was given a course of tonics, some of which probably contained the heroin that was occasionally given to horses of that era.
Something worked, because when he returned, he won 13 of his next 15 races.
In one brief span in 1932, the now four-year-old horse won the Epsom Derby, the Craven Plate and his first Cox Plate, those three wins coming on the heels of the dead heat victory with Rogilla mentioned earlier.
Autumn again found Chatham at a low spot in 1933, his only placing being the dead heat second in the C. F. Orr Stakes.
Spring found him again at the head of the class. Now competing as a five-year-old, he won the Warwick Stakes, setting a course record in the bargain. Another record fell when he won the Canterbury Stakes before he took the Hill Stakes as the lead up to his second Epsom Handicap win, this one whilst lugging 61.5 kg. He and Jockey Jim Pike won that race over the much lighter Regal Son. Pike had much to say in the way of praise for Chatham, noting that the horse was nearly invincible at a mile, whether it was being run under handicap or weight-for-age conditions. Pike also gave Chatham credit for being able to run on fast and slow tracks. He likened Chatham to Gloaming, Heroic, Amounis and Ajax. Others felt he compared quite favourably with Shannon, Super Impose and Gunsynd.
He went on to set another record in the Caulfield Stakes and win his third Linlithgow Stakes. In the autumn part of the campaign, he took the Randwick Stakes, the Doncaster Handicap, the All-Aged Stakes and the Cropper Plate. Pike would compare the Doncaster ride to that he took aboard Phar Lap in the race in 1931.
After a well-deserved rest, he came back as a six-year-old. He won the Warwick Stakes for the second time. In the Epsom, he was given 67.5 kg., and Pike, rather than risk Chatham, eased the horse, leading many to think the horse’s racing days were over, that is, until Chatham came back the following week to win his third Craven Plate, starting at 8 -1 and getting the better of Rogilla and Peter Pan. He next ran a second placing at Moonee Valley before beating Rogilla once again, along with Mark Hall, to win his second Cox Plate, his final win.
He finished out his remarkable career with an unplaced ride in the Melbourne Stakes that was won by Peter Pan.
Often, great racers produce less than optimal offspring, but with Chatham, this was not to be the case. Beginning in 1935, he sired Stradbroke Handicap winner High Rank in 1936 and Sydney Cup winner Craigie in 1940. In 1942, it was Chatspa, winner of the Adelaide Cup and three-time winner of the SAJC Birthday Cup. The following year, it was Consevator that took the South Australian Derby.
Sixteen of his progeny would be stakes winner and account for 36 victories. He produced his last foal in 1950.
Chatham was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005, alongside Galilee, Gunsynd, Eurythmic, and Todman. Perhaps he was not the second coming of Phar Lap, but he represented himself most credibly and avoided the dramatic conclusion of life that was Phar Lap’s unfortunate fate.