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Phar Lap’s skeleton will finally be standing proud after 73 years of crippled posture.

The skeleton was loaned to the Melbourne Museum last year, and displayed alongside the proudly-standing hide for the first time, showed its faults.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa’s curator of terrestrial vertebrates, Colin Miskelly, said there had long been a debate about whether it was more important to maintain the 1938 articulation as an historic exhibit, or whether it should be in an anatomically correct posture.

“The latter argument has finally been accepted,” he said.

The skeleton was originally arranged in 1938 by Dominion Museum staff who were not experts in equine anatomy, and a series of minor errors meant the skeleton did not quite match the proud physique of Phar Lap in his prime, Dr Miskelly said.

This was exacerbated by metal fatigue of the rod holding up the neck and skull, which saw the skull drooping from its original position.

A Te Papa team is working to have the skeleton re-articulated, with help from retired Massey University associate professor of veterinary anatomy Dr Alex Davies, who had earlier criticised the skeleton as being badly mounted.

The spine length and curvature have been increased, and it has been lowered at the front to increase the projection of the shoulder blades. More subtle adjustments include improving the position of the minor limb elements, including the patella and sesamoid bones.

Born at Seadown, near Timaru, in 1926, “Big Red” was bought by the Sydney-based American businessman David J Davis in 1928, and was trained and raced in Australia.

In the four years of his racing career, Phar Lap won 37 of 51 races, including the Melbourne Cup in 1930. He won his only race in America before dying in mysterious circumstances soon after.

 
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