The last hurdle

Legendary racehorse Phar Lap died, mysteriously in agony, on a tour of the USA following its win in the Agua Caliente Handicap in 1932 in Mexico. Investigators at the time suggested death by poisoning, but only now have Ivan Kempson of Academia Sinica, Taiwan and Dermot Henry of the Museum Victoria, Australia examined hair from the horse to show that was indeed killed by arsenic poisoning. The team used small pieces of hide and mane with the roots intact for analysis with X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. This technique detects even trace amounts of elemental contaminants and their chemical context. The team found a considerably elevated arsenic level at the same distance from the root of each hair examined. At the time of the horse's death, this part of the hair was under the surface of the skin, so was not added by the hide tanning process and indicates ingestion of a lethal dose of the poison.