Phar Lap, for his great race record and dramatic death, became a national icon (quite literally as he is actually featured in the Australian Citizenship test and his mounted hide is on display at the Melbourne Museum, his heart at the National Museum of Australia and his skeleton in a New Zealand!!) The curiousity over his cause of death remained a topic of interest even some 75 years afterward. Many tests were done on his hair and tissue but researchers were unable to separate the chemicals used in preserving his hide and heart vs. those that actually killed him. Also, it was common for race horses to be given small doses of Arsenic (as a blood thinner) a practice Phar Laps trainer was known to employ and so the actual dose of Arsenic (not just the presence of it) would be needed to determine it as a cause of death.
It was not until June 2008 that researchers were finally able to put this mystery to rest! Using some new high-flutin' technology they were able to test six hairs from Phar Laps mane and determine that 30 to 40 hours before his death Phar Lap ingested a massive dose of Arsenic! How cool is that! (that they figured it out...not that he was poisoned...*sheepish grin*....
(How can you tell that I am a fan of Cold Case Files.)
(photo: Phar Lap's heart)
I actually caught a program on TV that told of another interesting fact about Phar Lap and the great American race horse, Secretariat. Scientists have shown that they both carried the same genetic condition (that increases the size of their heart to almost double that of a normal horse) called "X-Factor"! This gene was passed down through a female line that traces back to a racehorse named Eclipse (foaled in England in 1764). While Phar Lap and Secretariat are the extreme cases (there is much debate about the actual weight of Secretariats heart because it was never weighed at his autopsy but the vet, on seeing a sixteen pound heart, guessed Secretariats to be around 22.) Other enlarged "X-Factor" hearts have been found in many other great race horses since.... actually some famous AQHA legendary racing sires like Easy Jet, Azure Te, Dash for Cash, Go Man Go, Three Bars, Top Deck, Leo and many more!
One last little tidbit... did you know that both Secretariat's jockey (Ron Turcotte) and Red Pollard (Seabuscuits jockey) were good ol' Canadian boys!!
THERE!!! NOOOOOO youtube videos! Whew! *wipes brow* That was difficult. I was going to post some actual footage of Seabuiscut, Phar Lap and Secretariat... but I shall resist!