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Late legend haunts horse lover

I will take this time to recall the incredible Secretariat of 1973, who put a record time almost out of sight.

Never saw that famous gelding or, for that matter, the first Florida-bred horse to win the Derby, Needles in 1956.

I like horses of all types, including the plodders who hauled ice wagons that stopped at homes where a card in the front window would signal how many pounds of ice should be brought in.

I don't have too much of a background on horse racing, but in 1935 as a rookie sports writer on the Boston Herald, I drew assignments to cover horse and dog shows.

Six decades go by seemingly with the speed of a thunderclap, and one day in 1987 I was at a museum in Melbourne, Australia, looking at what some people would call a "stuffed" horse.

My wife, Peggy, was with me and we knew it was the famous Australian race horse Phar Lap standing in a roped-off area.

It is a masterpiece of taxidermy, the image so realistic it seems he had just stopped at the museum long enough to stand for a photo opportunity.

Phar Lap was a magnificent animal, once termed a "great mountain of a horse"' with a heart that weighed 13 pounds, twice that of an ordinary horse. It had speed afoot greater than all competition in Australia and New Zealand.

In 1932, Phar Lap _ the Thai name for sky blink, or lightning _ was brought to the United States to race the best American horses after a long string of wins in his homeland.

On April 5 of that year, Phar Lap died suddenly and mysteriously in Menlo Park, Calif., a news break that made the front page of the New York Times.

The report said he had died of colic, a possibility, but track insiders talked about the wonder horse perhaps being poisoned by gamblers.

The year before in Australia, a gunman stalked Phar Lap with intent to kill him to satisfy bookmakers disgruntled with the great horse's string of wins, or so the rumor went.

In Australia, Phar Lap was such an idol that parts of his body were given to some of his followers. His huge heart was put on display in Canberra, the capital.

Peggy and I will sit Saturday to view the Derby scene, all the women in their colorful hats and the parade of horses heading for the starting gate.

And we will think about Phar Lap, who never made it to Churchill Downs for the 1932 race won by a horse named Burgoo King.