Australia's most famous racehorse
Foaled in New Zealand in 1926 by Night Raid out of Entreaty, Phar Lap grew to 17 hands and over his career won more than 65,000 pounds in prize money and won 37 of his 51 starts. From September 1929 he was the favourite in all but one of his races.
Phar Lap died in suspicious circumstances, some believing he was poisoned. After his death his bones were donated to Dominion Museum in New Zealand, his hide was mounted and put on display at Melbourne Museum, and Phar Lap's big heart resides at the National Museum of Australia (Canberra).
The giant hearted chestnut thoroughbred gelding racehorse Phar Lap is a much loved Australian, and New Zealand, national icon.
He triumphed during the Great Depression of the early 1930s, when a hero was most needed by the people of Australia.
In his four years on the race track, Phar Lap won 37 of the 51 races in which he started, including fourteen in a row in 1930-31. He is the only horse ever to have been favourite for the Melbourne Cup three years in a row.
Since the mounted specimen was donated to the Museum of Victoria in 1933, Phar Lap has been on display and now at Melbourne Museum, Phar Lap and associated memorabilia remain among the most popular exhibits.
For 4 months in 2010 - 2011 Phar Lap was displayed alongside his impressive skeleton for the very first time in an exhibit at the Melbourne Museum to mark the 150th running of the Melbourne Cup and the 80th anniversary of his historic Melbourne Cup win in 1930. The skeleton was loaned from Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington.
See Phar Lap's skeleton on display next to his hide in the Melbourne Gallery.
The cause of death was shrouded in mystery. Early on April 5, 1932, Tommy Woodcock (strapper) found him in severe pain and carrying a high temperature and within a few hours, Phar Lap hemorrhaged to death.
Much speculation ensued, and when a necropsy revealed that the horse's stomach and intestines were inflamed, many believed the horse had been deliberately poisoned. There have been alternative theories, including accidental poisoning from lead insecticide and a stomach condition.
In 2006 Australian Synchrotron Research scientists said it was almost certain Phar Lap was poisoned with a large single dose of arsenic 35 hours before he died, supporting the theory that Phar Lap was killed on the orders of US gangsters, who feared the Melbourne-Cup-winning champion would inflict big losses on their illegal bookmakers.
In 2008, a diary kept by his trainer Harry Telford supports a theory that points to accidental poisoning by his strapper Tommy Woodcock.
Dr Percy Sykes believes poisoning did not cause the death. He said "In those days, arsenic was quite a common tonic, usually given in the form of a solution (Fowler's Solution),"and suggests this was the cause of the high levels. "It was so common that I'd reckon 90 per cent of the horses had arsenic in their system." In December 2007 Phar Lap's mane was tested to find if he was given repeated doses of arsenic which, if found, would point to accidental poisoning.
Watch Phar Lap win the 1930 Melbourne Cup
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→ Diary may solve Phar Laps mystery death
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