News update 19/06/2008 - Phar Lap mystery solved
Investigation of the ranch in San Fransisco showed that some trees had recently been sprayed with a lead-arsenate insecticide. It was possible that some of the deadly spray had drifted onto grass that Phar Lap had eaten.
A later autopsy suggested that Phar Lap had died of a 'colicky condition' (bad stomach pains)—possibly from eating damp feed. Still, many people continued to believe that Phar Lap had been deliberately poisoned.
In 2000, equine specialists examined the two autopsy reports. They concluded that Phar Lap probably died of an acute enteric disease of bacterial origin: Duedentis-Proximal jejunitis. It was not until the 1980s that the infection was formally identified, so diagnosis in the 1930s would not have been possible.
The disease strikes so suddenly and furiously that death is the outcome for 70% of its victims. Phar Lap would have had little chance.