Phar Lap, Australia's Greatest Racehorse

Phar Lap, known as Australia's wonder horse, was a large, 17.1 hands, chestnut gelding. His large size and impressive win record made him a national treasure during a time when Australians needed something to look forward to. Born in 1926, Phar Lap was in his racing prime during the Great Depression. His impressive running style made him a fan favorite.

Although Phar Lap had impressive bloodlines, he was sired by Night Raid and out of Entreaty, his first few races gave little indication of the career that was to come. Phar Lap finished last in his first race, and out of the money in the next three. He won his fourth race and a hero was born. When his career ended, he had raced 51 times, finished first 37 times, second, 3 times and third 2 times. He was only unplaced in nine starts, and never after the fourth race of his three-year-old year.

As phenomenal as Phar Lap's life was, his death is just as intriguing. He had been shipped to Mexico in 1932 to race in the Agua Caliente Handicap, which he won. After the race, he was shipped to a farm in Menlo Park, California. On April 5, 1932 the trainer overseeing his care in the United States noticed that he was in pain and had a high fever. Within hours he was dead. A necropsy was done, which showed evidence of inflammation of the stomach and intestines, but what caused it? Poisoning, either intentional or accidental, or a stomach ailment?

In 2000, 68 years after the death of Phar Lap, a group of American scientists determined that he died of an infection. By looking at his necropsy results, they determined he suffered from duodenitis-proximal jejunitis, which could not be identified in the 1930s. However, in 2006, Sydney scientists reported that he was poisoned by high levels of arsenic. They believe American book-makers wanted him dead so that he would not interfere with their betting profits. Regardless of how he died, Phar Lap, Australia's wonder horse, continues to fascinate those of us who follow horse racing.

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