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Phar Lap's arsenic came in a massive dose - researcher

Phar Lap

June 19, 2008

Another piece has been added to the puzzle surrounding the death of champion racehorse Phar Lap after researchers showed the horse died from a massive ingestion of arsenic in the hours before his death.

The Australian champion thoroughbred died in mysterious circumstances during a racing campaign in North America and there have long been suspicions he was deliberately poisoned.

Research by the University of South Australia's Dr Ivan Kempson and Dermott Henry from the Museum of Victoria have answered a crucial question in the debate over Phar Lap's death.

The pair proved in October 2006 that a large dose of arsenic was involved in Phar Lap's death. They found that the horse had ingested a single massive dose of arsenic some 30 to 40 hours before his death.

However, the researchers needed to conduct further work ensure the arsenic they found in his red hair had not been compromised by that used in the normal taxidermy process to preserve his hide.

But their work does not prove that Phar Lap was deliberately poisoned. Arsenic was given to racehorses in the 1930s in small doses in tonics.

Phar Lap and Tommy Woodcock
However, their research has proven that the arsenic found had not been from constant smaller doses of the poison, and they have ruled out the preservation process as being its source.

It is known that strapper and trainer Tommy Woodcock had arsenic-based recipes he used on horses and some have suspected he misjudged a dose, accidentally killing the horse.

Equally, it is possible that Phar Lap was poisoned by a third party, perhaps a gambling syndicate and even the Mafia has been named as a possible perpetrator.

Phar Lap may be dead, but his body lives on - so to speak.

The gelding's skeleton is in Wellington at Te Papa and his heart is at the National Museum in Canberra. His stuffed body is at Melbourne Museum.



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