MELBOURNE — The skeleton of legendary racehorse Phar Lap went on view in Australia for the first time Thursday, nearly 80 years after his death, in a display that is expected to draw some 350,000 visitors.
The giant skeleton of "Australia's wonder horse", on loan from his birthplace New Zealand, is on show at Melbourne Museum, joining his hide, which is already exhibited there.
"He lived fast. He died young. He was sort of the James Dean of the racing world," said Melbourne Museum chief Patrick Greene.
"And like James Dean he's created a legend and that legend is something that continues to build year by year."
The huge chestnut was an Australian sporting hero during the era of the Great Depression, winning 37 of his 51 starts including the 1930 Melbourne Cup.
Aged five, he suffered an agonising death in 1932 in California just days after winning an international race at Agua Caliente in Mexico, in circumstances that remain shrouded in mystery.
Tests in 2008 finally confirmed Phar Lap was poisoned with arsenic. Theories include that he was nobbled by American gangsters or given too much stimulating "tonic" by his trainer.
Phar Lap finished last in his first race and did not place in the next three, but when he finally started winning such was his prowess that Australian criminals tried to shoot him in 1930.
Part of the gelding's presence lay in his sheer size -- he was warty, gangly and had such an awkward gait he sold for just 160 guineas, or 336 US dollars.
His skeleton is so large curator Michael Houlihan said children often mistook it for a dinosaur. According to records, Phar Lap was a staggering 17 hands (1.72 metres, five feet eight inches) high.
"Horses are large but it is very large by those standards and quite the sight to see in front of you," he said.
Wellington's Te Papa Tongarewa museum agreed to loan the skeleton for four months for a special exhibit marking the 150th edition of the Melbourne Cup, which will be raced on November 2.
Phar Lap's mammoth six kilogramme (14-pound) heart is on display in Australia's National Museum in Canberra, but is too delicate to travel to Melbourne to join the rest of the remains.
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