Phar Lap’s mysterious death in 1932 has demonstrated yet again that it’s the class stayer in Australia’s greatest unsolved mystery stakes with two News Limited papers declaring war this week over claims they’ve cracked the 74-year-old case.
In a “world exclusive” on Monday the Herald Sun announced that scientific tests conducted in the US had revealed traces of arsenic in one of Phar Lap’s hairs and declared “the mysterious death of Phar Lap has been solved”.
According the the Herald Sun, the findings were consistent with a single large dose of arsenic ingested about 35 hours before the horse died. In an editorial the paper concluded:
The testing has confirmed the long-held suspicion that the “wonder horse” was killed, not by accident, but in a deliberate sabotage by rival racing syndicates, big time gamblers or even gangsters.
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But according to News Limited stablemate, The Australian, the Hun’s report fingering the Americans for Phar Lap’s death was greatly exaggerated. The paper launched its own investigations which cleared the Yanks of any wrongdoing, and editorialised thus:
While it may be fun to blame the Americans for all the troubles in the world to blame the Yanks for this particular misfortune is unfair… the arsenic that did Phar Lap in did not come from the mob but from his own trainer, Tommy Woodcock, who included it in a complex tonic concocted to improve the great racer’s performance, with arsenic added to promote a gleaming coat.
But this one is far from a being a two horse rase. The ABC’s AM program came up with its own longshot theory this week. Graham Pearce, Canberra vet who studied under Phar Lap’s former vet, Bill Niesen, told the program:
What had happened, and he said to me that it happened, is that the local municipal authorities had sprayed that pasture around… Well, they’d sprayed sort of weeds, noxious weeds and all that sort of stuff, in the vicinity of the stables, and not telling anyone, or perhaps presumably not… they didn’t do this in a malicious sort of context, and then one of the guys, now I think it could’ve been Woodcock, took the horse out for, they call it a green pick, and he wandered away from the stable area up onto this green area, it looked fairly good, and gave him a green pick. And of course that’s where he got all the arsenic.
So was the the weedkiller, the tonic or the gangsters wot dunnit?
Perhaps the only safe bet is that the Hun’s boast that the case is solved is more than a little premature.