The 8th of February 1983 AD
The enduring mystery of the disappearance of “Shergar the Wonder Horse” has elements of the thriller, the farce, and the tragedy about it.
Shergar was bred in Ireland by the Aga Khan. The horse’s early career was more than impressive: winning the Guardian Classic Trial on his debut by ten lengths; then taking the Chester Vase by 12 lengths. In the 1981 Derby the horse ridden by 19-year-old Walter Swinburn won by ten lengths again, the greatest winning margin in the history of the event, and so far ahead that legend has it the second-placed jockey thought his horse had won.
Put to stud in Ireland at the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud, Shergar’s second career was equally impressive, siring 35 foals in his first and only season, although only one went on to significant success. The horse had been sold to a syndicate, with 40 shares, six of them retained by his original owner. The stud fee charged was between £50,000 and £80,000 per mare.
In the evening of February 8th 1983 the horse was dramatically snatched from the stud farm by a gang of at least six men in balaclavas, armed with pistols and sub-machine guns. The gang had timed the crime well, major horse sales that day meaning horse-boxes were everywhere.
The owning syndicate negotiated with the kidnappers to win time, but never intended to accede to demands for fear of making horse-napping an attractive new venture for criminals. It is believed the horse was probably shot, panicking and uncontrollable soon after being taken.
The police investigation was not one that won them admirers.
The most widely held theory is of IRA involvement, but there are plenty of other theories around, and such is the legendary status of the crime there will doubtless be more in the future. What is certain is that the great horse was never seen again.
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