Phar Lap was Australia's greatest ever race horse (in my mind) and we can forget the fact that the horse was born or bred in New Zealand. Let's face it, his fame came in Australia and he raced only in Australia and in the US.
Phar Lap's record of 37 wins from 51 starts is a phenomenal record for any horse. Within those 37 wins was a streak of 14 wins in a row. Yet, what endeared him to the horse racing public was that he was a battler and for a depression era horse that meant that people could relate to him. He very much was a people's champion.
The fact that Phar Lap went to the US and won his first start in Mexico at the Ague Caliente Handicap, which at that time was North America's richest handicap event, meant that the sudden death saw an instant conspiracy theory business start. The most often mentioned of these was that the mob knocked him off by poisoning him. When one considers that Phar Lap travelled around the world by boat, took an 800 mile road trip to Tijuana, then blitzed the field while breaking the track record racing on a dirt track for the first time, there must have been a few worried punters!
At the time the death was ruled to be the result of colic. However, it was a known fact that Harry Telford, the horse's trainer, often used all sorts of potions and concoctions on his horses in an attempt to keep them healthy and give them an edge. When Phar Lap went to the US, Harry Telford stayed in Australia and Tommy Woodcock went with Big Red. There is a classic moment in the Phar Lap movie where Telford is explaining why he is not going with the horse to the US and Woodcock is going in his place. You will have to watch it and see for yourself.
I always figured that a more likely scenario was that Woodcock got the potions wrong or mixed them wrong and overdosed Phar Lap with arsenic. This seems to be the case as Woodcock appears to admit as much shortly before he died.
Phar Lap is best remembered for his 1930 Melbourne Cup win as this win came soon after shots were fired at him after a morning workout.
Phar Lap died at the Menlo Park race track in California on 5 April 1932.