SI Vault
"He's Dead," And Australia Mourned
Peter Andrews
October 25, 1971
His name was Phar Lap, meaning lightning strike in Javanese, and for almost 40 years now his body—mounted and preserved under glass in Melbourne—has been maintained as one of Australia's national shrines. Looking at him today you can see that this racehorse, a happy, red chestnut giant standing well over 16 hands, was the kind of steed you could trust with your $2 or your little daughter—he would bring either one home safe and sound. In 51 starts he won 37 times and finished in the money another five. He won at every distance from six furlongs to 2� miles. If he had not died tragically while in his prime, he might have proved to the world he was what the Australians had always said: the greatest racehorse ever.
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October 25, 1971

"he's Dead," And Australia Mourned

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At first it was announced Phar Lap had died of the colic, but an autopsy showed heavy doses of arsenic in his stomach. Phar Lap had been poisoned. But how, and by whom? Many Australians were quick to assume that American gangsters had done it. Some Australians still believe it. But it is more likely that the poisoning was a dreadful mistake. A few days before Phar Lap died, a nurseryman had sprayed the trees of the ranch with a lead arsenic insecticide. It was too windy to do a good job, but he went ahead anyway. The spray, carried by the wind, coated the grass where Phar Lap grazed.

To this day the memory rankles in Australia, and Americans can still get into an argument in the nicest pub in Sydney over the Phar Lap tragedy. It is understandable. After all, they had sent us the best horse their continent had ever known, and we shipped them back a monument.

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