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Shergar

The mystery of the legendary Irish-bred racehorse Shergar - stolen by masked gunmen on 8th February 1983 - has been the inspiration for numerous books, documentaries and even a movie. His disappearance has been described as the equine equivalent of Lord Lucan.

Yet despite many theories being suggested, as time passes, it seems increasingly unlikely that the incident which shocked the racing world will ever be definitively solved. The racehorse described as, "truly outstanding" after he won the 1981 Epsom Derby by a record 10 lengths, was never seen again - and nor was his body ever found.

Shergar

 

First race

Born on 3rd March 1978, Shergar was a bay colt with a white blaze. He was bred in County Kildare by his owner, the Aga Khan - the multi-millionaire philanthropist and head of the Aga Khan Development Network which aids neglected parts of the world.

Shergar was sired by British stallion and winner of the Prix du Moulin, Great Nephew. He was trained by the renowned thoroughbred horse trainer, Michael Stoute, whose other credits have included training the Queen's horse, Estimate, for his Gold Cup win at Royal Ascot in 2013.

In his first season as a two-year-old in 1980, Shergar's debut race saw him win the Kris Plate by more than two lengths, setting a course record at Newbury in a field of 23.

 

Record-breaking win

It was during his second season in 1981 that Shergar showed his true class.

His three-year-old debut, Sandown Park's Guardian Classic Trial, saw him win by 10 lengths. He went on to win the Chester Vase by 12 lengths before the race that sealed his place in history.

Starting odds-on favourite at the Epsom Derby and with 19-year old jockey Walter Swinburn in the saddle wearing Aga Khan's green and red racing colours, Shergar produced a "dream ride" for Stoute's young stable jockey.

He won by a record 10 lengths, the longest margin in the race's history, which dates back to the inaugural Derby Stakes of May 1780. Swinburn later said that Shergar had found his own pace, with the jockey simply letting him run at his own speed.

Shergar's next race was the Irish Derby. Ridden by Lester Piggott who said afterwards that he let the horse go at his own pace, Shergar enjoyed a comfortable win, leading to commentator Peter O'Sullevan describing it as looking as if he was on an exercise canter.

Jockey

 

9Racehorse stolen

Valued at £10 million - a record in Europe for a stallion – Shergar was syndicated for breeding, producing 35 foals from a single season at stud. The Aga Khan decided to keep Shergar in Ireland, despite industry insiders saying they expected him to be taken to the United States.

Tragedy struck when Shergar, then five years old, was stolen from the Aga Khan's Ballymany Stud in Co Kildare on 8th February 1983. Armed kidnappers broke into the stud and forced head groom James Fitzgerald to put Shergar into a trailer. The groom was kidnapped too, with his family held at gunpoint so they couldn't report the incident.

Fitzgerald was dumped at the side of the road several hours later, in what was later described as a bungled IRA ransom plot but despite massive publicity, public outcry and police investigations, Shergar was never seen again and his final fate remains unknown to this day.

 

Media frenzy

The theft led to a media frenzy and inspired 2008 film, Shergar, starring Mickey Rourke. However, unlike in real life, the movie script had a fictionalised happy ending in which Shergar was rescued from his captors and saved by a stable boy. Books and documentaries also speculate about that fateful night.

Whatever happened to Shergar after the kidnapping, he is perhaps best remembered by the late jockey Walter Swinburn's words: "That horse could gallop."

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