Scientists: Arsenic Killed Phar Lap

Forensic scientists say champion Australian gelding Phar Lap died of arsenic poisoning, solving a mystery that has intrigued the horse racing world for more than 75 years.

Phar Lap won 37 of his 51 starts before his death in mysterious circumstances at Menlo Park in California in April 1932. Days before his death, he won Mexico's Agua Caliente Handicap, which was then the richest horse race in North America.

Arsenic poisoning has long been suspected as the cause of Phar Lap’s death, but confirmation had been lacking until Thursday when researchers Dr. Ivan Kempson of the University of South Australia and Dermot Henry, manager of Natural Science Collections at Museum Victoria, released the findings of their forensic investigation.

Kempson took six hairs from Phar Lap's mane and analyzed them at the Advanced Photon Source Synchrotron in Chicago, finding that in the 40 hours before Phar Lap's death the horse had ingested a massive dose of arsenic.

Phar Lap's mounted hide is on display at the Melbourne Museum, while his heart is kept at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

"We can't speculate where the arsenic came from, but it was easily accessible at the time," Henry said.

Notebooks kept by Phar Lap's handler Tommy Woodcock, obtained by Museum Victoria, show the horse was administered tonics and ointments containing both arsenic and strychnine. An accidental overdose has long been considered the likely cause of death.

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The Associated Press

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