Four winning and placed colts from Aga Khan Studs at Arqana
The Aga Khan Studs will present a quartet of blue-blooded winning and placed colts at the forthcoming Arqana Summer Sale. Representatives of the Aga Khan Studs regularly shine on the flat and over jumps across the globe after selling privately or at public auction. Recent examples include SIKANDARABAD, a son of Dr Fong from the family of SINNDAR who has won a Listed contest and finished third in the Group 1 Metropolitan Handicap since being exported to Australia, HARIPOUR, a Shamardal half-brother to dual Derby hero HARZAND who has picked up a pair of Listed races in Australia, as well as Group 2 winning hurdler RASHAAN (Manduro), who was sold for €8,500 and has since earned more than €200,000 for his new connections.
The forthcoming consignment for the Deauville sale on 3rd July is headed by lot 403 SAMEER, a son of Nathaniel and an unraced half-sister to three-time Group 1 winner SARAFINA, Group 1 second SANAYA and Group 3 scorer SANDAGIYR. The colt has been placed twice in three outings, recently finishing a close third in a maiden over eleven furlongs.
SAMEER will be followed through the ring by recent winner BELSANNDI (SINNDAR, lot 404). He hails from the family of champion filly BEHERA, runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, whose bloodline features Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris winner BEHKABAD and 2000 Guineas second Vital Equine.
Beautifully-bred lot 459 SANARY is by Invincible Spirit and out of Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary winner SAGAWARA whose dam is a full sister to Arc hero SAGAMIX and Group 2 scorer SAGE ET JOLIE. The grey colt has finished in the frame on four occasions including two third places this season over six and nine furlongs.
An additional lot to the draft is juvenile scorer MAKMOUR, a son of Rock Of Gibraltar and MAKANA, a dual winner by renowned broodmare sire Dalakhani. After opening his account on his debut at two years old, MAKMOUR finished second on his return to action and then tried his luck in Group company. He has a rating of 96.
These Special Stamps that pay tribute to some of the world’s most successful racehorse legends.
The stamps feature original artwork of eight champion horses achieving their greatest wins on UK race courses over six decades; four flat racers and four National Hunt horses. The horses featured are: Frankel, Red Rum, Shergar, Kauto Star, Desert Orchid, Brigadier Gerard, Arkle and Estimate.
The stamps launch in the year marking the 40th anniversary of Red Rum’s history-making third Grand National win.
Stamp name: Shergar (1978-1983) Epsom Derby 1981
Release date: 6 April 2017
Designer: Michael Heslop
About this collection
The stamps feature original artwork of eight champion horses achieving their greatest wins on UK race courses over six decades.
A close relative to Gr. 1 winner Mourayan at Goffs UK
The Aga Khan Studs consignment of seven colts and geldings for the forthcoming Goffs UK August Sale holds great appeal with promising individuals for a future on the flat or over jumps.
Among the attractions, the sole four-year-old of the draft, HASANABAD (lot 196), recorded a win over a mile and a half in the spring at Tipperary. The lightly-raced son of Nathaniel is out of Kalanisi mare Hasanka, a dual Listed winner and Group 3 runner-up and dam of the Stakes-placed Hasanour. HASANABAD presents an interesting dual purpose profile as his dam Hasanka is a half-sister to black-type hurdler Hasik.
Another winner, MOURIYANI, (City Zip, lot 199) hails from a prolific maternal line as his dam Mouraniya (Azamour) is a daughter of three-time winner, including the Gr.2 Prix de Royallieu, Mouramara, who has produced Australian Group 1 scorer Mourayan, Melbourne Cup third Mourilyan and triple Group 2 winning hurdler Mourad. MOURIYANI is a half-brother to two winners including Momour who counts six successes in France.
Two beautifully bred colts have been placed. HASANKEY (lot 197), a son of Mastercrafstman and a half-sister to dual Derby hero and young Gilltown Stud sire HARZAND, finished second in a Navan maiden in June, while EDESSANN (Lope De Vega, lot 242), who is out of Group 3 scorer Edelmira and represents the famous line of Enzeli, Estimate, Ebadiyla and Edabiya, was placed last season as a juvenile.
BASHIYR (lot 241) is untried to date and this gelding is a son of Invincible Spirit and Group 3 Derrinstown 1000 Guineas trial winner Baliyana, dam of Balansiya who was runner up in the same Group 3 contest.
For full details of the Aga Khan Studs consignment selling at Doncaster on 7th August, please click here.
The Aga Khan Studs enjoyed a fine weekend across France, Ireland and England with successes for their stallions and colours. Star Catcher and Sottsass provided the highlights at ParisLongchamp while TARNAWA continued her progression with Group 2 victory at the Curragh.
SEA THE STARS’ Irish Oaks heroine Star Catcher impressed when securing the Prix Vermeille in a front-running performance under Frankie Dettori. Trained by John Gosden for owner/breeder Anthony Oppenheimer, Star Catcher was winning her third Group race after the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Irish Oaks. She could now be aimed towards the Fillies and Mares Champion Stakes at Ascot or the Breeders’ Cup and she may well remain in training next season at four years old.
Gilltown Stud stallion SEA THE STARS had been to the fore in previous days in England, thanks to champion stayer Stradivarius who recorded a tenth consecutive win in the Group 2 Doncaster Cup, and also to Sextant who carried the colours of HRH The Queen to victory in the Listed Sportpresa Stand Cup at Chester.
Not to be outdone, the Haras de Bonneval’s SIYOUNI scored a hat-trick on the important Arc Trials card at ParisLongchamp. Sottsass validated his ticket for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as after having little room to race, he produced an electric turn of foot once a gap opened in the Prix Niel. This was the colt’s first outing since winning the Prix du Jockey-Club and Jean-Claude Rouget’s charge now represents the leading French candidate for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on 6th October.
On the same card, SIYOUNI’s son City Light ran out the stylish winner of the Group 3 Prix du Pin. Runner-up in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes last year, City Light relished the step up to seven furlongs and will now target the Prix de la Forêt on Arc day. SIYOUNI’s treble was completed in the final race of the afternoon as the progressive Jarnac opened her account in the Prix Haxo juveniles’ handicap. On the other side of Atlantic, another of his two-year-old, Walk In Marrakesh, finished second by a nose in the Gr.1 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine.
In Ireland, H.H. the Aga Khan’s consistent homebred TARNAWA recorded her third Group success when staying on strongly to lift the Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes. Trained by Dermot Weld, the three-year-old daughter of Shamardal now has Group 1 options in the Prix de l’Opéra, the Prix de Royallieu or the Filles and Mares Champions Stakes at Ascot.
Francis-Henri Graffard will be sent yearlings to train for H.H. the Aga Khan in France from the Autumn onwards. A graduate of the first Godolphin Flying Start programme, he started training in Chantilly in 2012 and Graffard has rapidly met with success, training more than 300 winners to date. He enjoyed a particularly good season this year, with a quick double at Group 1 level this summer when Channel took the Prix de Diane and Watch Me won the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The Aga Khan homebred yearlings born in France in 2018 will therefore be distributed between Alain de Royer Dupré, Mikel Delzangles, Jean-Claude Rouget and Francis-Henri Graffard, who will receive a batch of 10 yearlings in the upcoming weeks.
Their progeny shone on the track as well as in the sales ring.
The Aga Khan Studs flagship sires, SEA THE STARS and SIYOUNI, have both enjoyed further Classic glory in 2019. Gilltown Stud’s SEA THE STARS is ranked third leading European sire and won a second consecutive Gr.1 Irish Oaks thanks to the exceptional Star Catcher, also winner of the Gr.1 Prix Vermeille and Gr.1 British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes. Crystal Ocean shared Longines World’s Best Racehorse honours with Enable and Waldgeist, and champion stayer Stradivarius recorded a streak of ten consecutive races.
Haras de Bonneval resident SIYOUNI was again crowned leading French-based sire. His principal representative was Gr.1 Prix du Jockey Club hero and Gr.1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe third Sottsass, and 2018 Gr.1 Prix de Diane winner Laurens brought her Group 1 score up to six with victory in the Prix Rothschild during August.
The two sires also rewarded breeders in the sales ring, with their progeny attracting great interest at premier auctions across Europe, and notably a new record for a yearling by SIYOUNI, which sold for a bid of 1.3 million Guineas during Tattersalls Book 1. SEA THE STARS has also been well represented during the sales with twelve of his yearlings selling for €500,000 or more and a top price of 875,000 guineas (€1,17 million).
The first yearlings by SEA THE STARS’ dual Derby winning son HARZAND, and the blue-blooded DARIYAN, met with enthusiasm from breeders and investors with respectively four and two yearlings reaching six figure sums. Their debuts are eagerly anticipated on the track in 2020.
ZARAK, the Group 1 winning son of Zarkava and Dubawi, is the latest recruit to ensure the continuity of the Aga Khan Studs. The most recent in an illustrious bloodline stretching back to Petite Etoile and Mumtaz Mahal, 2020 will see his first yearlings entering the market.
It was just after 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 8, 1983, when Jim Fitzgerald heard a knock at the door. Fitzgerald, the main groom for the Ballymany Stud horse stable in Newbridge, Ireland, was resting in his home on the stable’s grounds. The family wasn't expecting anyone. His son, Bernard, went to the door to see who it was.
There, in the doorframe, stood two masked men. Each held a machine gun.
Even before they spoke, Fitzgerald knew there was only one reason for them to be there. They had come for the horse. For Shergar.
Fitzgerald’s wife and four other children were also at home. One gunman ushered them into a room and locked the door. Yet more gunmen materialized. Another ordered Fitzgerald to lead him to Shergar’s stable, and Fitzgerald did as he was told. The man then produced a two-way radio and spoke into it. Soon, a horse trailer pulled up, and more men with guns spilled out. There were perhaps five or six in all now occupying the grounds.
The men ordered a terrified Fitzgerald to lead Shergar—who was soothed by the caretaker's presence—outside and into the trailer. Then they ushered Fitzgerald into another vehicle, blindfolding him. Both vehicles pulled out of the stable and past the unlocked gate that had permitted them entrance. Fitzgerald was driven around for what seemed like hours.
Finally, he was released on a strange road and given a brief set of instructions: He was not to call the police, or he and his family would be killed. He was given a code phrase, "King Neptune," that could confirm the group’s identity when they reached out to the horse’s owner to negotiate their ransom demand: £2 million (about $2.6 million).
They drove off, leaving Fitzgerald alone and in the dark. Somewhere in Ireland was Shergar, one of the most famous horses in the history of racing, who was being set out to stud for astonishing sums. His entire life, Shergar had been treated with the utmost care. Now he was in the hands of criminals. He had been horsenapped.
In the history of horse racing in Europe, few horses could rival Shergar’s accomplishments. He was born in Kildare, Ireland, in 1978. He grew up nibbling the nutrient-rich grass and soil common in the area, and which was believed to contribute to strong equine bones. Though he had run just eight times in his single-season career, Shergar had won five of his six starts, including both the Irish Sweeps Derby and Epsom Derby in 1981. In the latter, he won by a record 10 lengths, the widest margin of any horse in that race that century. The accomplishments netted him European Horse of the Year honors as well as a total of $809,447 in career earnings.
With his distinctive white blaze, white feet, and a memorable running style—he would sprint with his tongue lolling out of his mouth like a canine—Shergar was the pride of Ireland. When he was retired from racing, his owner, the billionaire Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader, the Aga Khan, fielded offers from Kentucky breeders in the neighborhood of $35 to $40 million for Shergar. But Khan, believing Shergar should be returned to Ireland, would not sell to American investors. Instead, he sold 40 shares of the horse to 34 shareholders valued at $15 million total, keeping six for himself. He then sent Shergar to his Ballymany stable so he could be put out to stud, with the profits being returned to the stakeholders.
Shergar’s first season was fruitful: He mated with 42 of 44 mares. The second season, which was slated to begin in February 1983, was expected to involve 55 mares, with fees for his offspring and their presumably superior racing genetics reaching close to $5 million.
But Shergar’s schedule would not proceed as planned.
Days before mating season began, the gunmen had knocked on Jim Fitzgerald’s door. By 9 p.m. that night, they'd left Fitzgerald on a desolate road and taken off with the horse.
Fitzgerald was able to walk into a village and locate a phone. With the gang’s orders fresh in his mind, his first communication was not to the Irish police, also known as the Garda. Instead, he called his brother, Des, for a ride back to the stables. Then he called his boss, farm manager Ghislain Drion, and explained what had just happened. A shocked Drion absorbed the information, then hung up and attempted to reach the Aga Khan, who was in Switzerland. Drion also telephoned Shergar’s veterinarian, Stan Cosgrove, seeking advice on how to handle the situation.
The calls continued, no one party entirely sure how to proceed. Very few racehorses had ever been abducted, with the two highest-profile cases both outside of Ireland: A mare named Carnauba had been snatched in Italy in 1975 and 11-time race winner Fanfreluche grabbed in Kentucky in 1977. Both were later found alive.
Drion finally reached the Aga Khan, who told him to phone the police regardless of the criminals’ cautions. Cosgrove, meanwhile, called his friend Sean Berry, the chair of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeding Association. Berry called an Irish finance minister. By the time the situation had been routed to the police, it was early Wednesday morning, and Shergar had been potentially traveling for six hours or more.
The delayed response played directly into the gang’s plans. On Wednesday, the area was teeming with trailers, as a major horse sale was scheduled. Shergar’s captors could have easily blended into the scene. And with a number of pastures in the area, it would have been just as easy to let Shergar loiter outdoors, grouped in with hundreds of other horses. Until the kidnappers made contact, it would be almost impossible to trace them.
To make matters worse, both Dublin police and Kildare police were on the case but refusing to share information with one another.
The first call to Ballymany came at 4 p.m. the next day, on Wednesday, February 9. Ghislain Drion accepted it, and knew it was genuine because the caller used the same code, King Neptune, that had been given to Fitzgerald. By now, Drion was being coached by the Garda, who had told him to keep the caller on the line for at least 90 seconds, which would allow authorities to trace the call. Drion, who was French, pretended there was a language barrier, but the caller seemed wise to his intent and disconnected after 85 seconds. More calls followed, with the man soon insisting that he be given a number to speak to someone in Paris, where the Aga Khan had representatives, in order to negotiate further.
Shergar is pictured at his stables in Newmarket, England in 1980
Shergar at his stables in Newmarket, England in 1980.
Steve Powell, Allsport/Getty Images
A little later that evening, a call came into the offices of the BBC in Belfast. A man claiming to be involved in the kidnapping demanded to negotiate with three horse racing journalists: Lord Oaksey, Peter Campling, and Derek Thompson. All three were told to head to the Europa Hotel for further instruction. There, Thompson received a call telling him to drive 30 miles to a stable owned by breeder Jeremy Maxwell. He did as he was instructed, and was coached by police to perform duties similar to Drion’s—trying to maintain the call long enough for it to be traced.
Whoever Thompson spoke to on the telephone was demanding an initial payment of between $44,000 and $56,000, a paltry amount that led authorities to believe it might be a hoax. They had no choice, however, but to proceed. When Thompson finally managed to keep the man on the call for 95 seconds, he was told the officer in charge of the tap had ended his shift. It hadn’t been traced.
Both Thompson and Drion kept insisting on receiving proof Shergar was still alive. Drion managed to get the man he was speaking with to leave evidence at the Rossnaree Hotel in Dublin, though it didn’t arrive until Saturday, February 12. There, a man dispatched to retrieve it found a Polaroid of Shergar next to a newspaper from February 11, seemingly proving the horse was alive two days after being captured.
As these parallel negotiations dragged on over the week, they were hindered by one common element: The kidnappers did not appear to have accounted for the fact that Shergar was not owned solely by the Aga Khan. There were 33 other shareholders, and all of them had a say in how to proceed. Some believed giving in to the kidnappers would set a dangerous precedent that would put many valuable racehorses at risk. No one seemed able or willing to acquiesce to the ransom demand.
Both Thompson and a representative for the syndicate that owned Shergar received similar final calls. Thompson’s came first, at roughly 6:55 a.m. on Thursday, February 10, saying that the horse had suffered an accident and was dead. Another call was received by the syndicate negotiator, who had taken over for Drion, shortly after the Polaroid had been retrieved on February 12. After the negotiator said the shareholders were not yet satisfied and hadn't come to a conclusion, the caller grew cold. “Well, if you're not satisfied, that's it,” he said, and hung up. No more calls were made.
It would be several years before Ireland knew of Shergar’s likely fate.
From the beginning, it seemed that the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, was responsible for Shergar’s theft. Some speculated that the IRA, in need of funds to arm themselves in the midst of the Troubles—the 30-year conflict over the status of Northern Ireland—had turned to the lucrative world of horse racing and taken off with Shergar just before breeding season began. But that didn’t prevent other theories from emerging.
Some believed the mafia had somehow orchestrated the crime. Others thought Colonel Gaddafi of Libya had held the horse in exchange for arms for the IRA. A Kentucky breeder named Wayne Murty was named in Irish newspapers, the idea being that the Aga Khan had won a court ruling over a contentious bidding war for 56 valuable breeding horses and this was his revenge.
None, however, made as much sense as the IRA. The militant group never took responsibility for the act, but the pieces appeared to line up.
In the late 1990s, a former IRA member and police informant named Sean O’Callaghan admitted in a book that an IRA leader named Kevin Mallon had planned the horse heist. Another former IRA member who spoke with The Telegraph in 2008 claimed the idea had quickly gone off the rails when a veterinarian the IRA had been counting on to take care of Shergar backed out of the deal, leaving them with no real guidance on how to handle him. Shergar, having been on a diet and exercise regimen to promote virility, was likely excitable. It’s possible he hurt himself, or, according to The Telegraph's source, it may have been that Mallon realized he wasn’t going to get the ransom. Either way, The Telegraph's source says Shergar was shot and his remained buried in an unknown location. Shareholders who had theft insurance were paid by Lloyd’s of London. The rest took a loss.
It’s never been conclusively proven that the IRA was involved. The fact that they never claimed responsibility means little—Shergar was an icon in Ireland, and admitting culpability in his demise probably seemed unwise even for a militant group. IRA sympathizers, let alone anyone else, would likely not receive the news well.
In the end, the race to find Shergar was not one that anyone was able to win. But before his demise, the champion horse did enjoy a full season of breeding. Of his 35 offspring, 28 raced, and 15 were winners.
So much is crammed into the Shergar legend that the all but certain reality of this beautiful, blameless creature dying a horrible death has become almost a footnote.
The precise nature of how Shergar was killed has never been definitively established, the same as how much of what happened to the record-breaking Derby winner in the days after his kidnap from the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud outside Newbridge on February 8th, 1983, remains unclear.
Some even choose to still cling to the comfort that he might not have been killed at all and instead somehow shipped out of the country to live out his days in luxury as a stallion at some mad sheikh’s desert oasis.
It’s a nice thought but unconvincing in comparison to more lurid versions of how the most famous horse of modern times ultimately met his fate. None makes for consolation, especially how the horse had to be shot after breaking a leg shortly after his theft.
A source outlined in a newspaper report over a decade ago – “Shergar was machine gunned to death. There was blood everywhere and the horse even slipped on his own blood. There was lots of cussin’ and swearin’ because the horse wouldn’t die.”
No one has officially admitted to doing the shooting. Almost everyone accepts though it was the IRA, just as it is generally accepted that a gang hopelessly ill-equipped to handle a thoroughbred stallion eventually dumped his carcass in a Co Leitrim bog.
Considering the grim toll of terrorist violence in Ireland throughout the decades before, during and afterwards, there’s a necessary context to the wretched killing of a dumb animal.
As everyone now faces the frightening arbitrary reality of a global health crisis, dwelling on such events, no matter what the prestige and value of the animal involved, can even seem indulgent. But there’s also no ignoring how the Shergar story still holds a terrible lure.
A Garda Officer on duty in the grounds of Ballymany Stud Farm. Photo: Getty Images A Garda officer on duty in the grounds of Ballymany Stud Farm after the crime. File photograph: Getty Images
Nearly four decades after his death his name remains instantly recognisable.
Assured of a place in racing history through his momentous run of success in the summer of 1981, it is also Shergar’s dubious privilege to live on in the popular consciousness. Often it’s as a punchline. But so too, still, as a stain on the country’s reputation.
Such a claim might have sounded too much for some even at the time. The kidnapping was dramatic and regrettable and fascinating enough to command global headlines. But at a time when Ireland was Europe’s ‘sick man’, plenty had more pressing priorities than contemplating national honour.
That’s because throughout the grim 1980’s Ireland was an economic and social basket-case.
Success in racing is inextricably tied up with wealth so inevitably some of racing’s richest names had bought into Shergar
Double-digit unemployment figures and skyhigh taxation produced a generation for export. Those that didn’t go stayed in a priest-ridden cultural backwater where even the contraceptives necessary to fight the AIDS epidemic were outlawed. Even much of the music seemed to be doleful crap.
The overarching backdrop to all of it – a dismal soundtrack to more than one generation – was daily evidence of this island’s capacity for vicious sectarianism and the inability to peer beyond fundamentalist tribal hatreds.
So in comparison the kidnap and killing of a thoroughbred could, and perhaps should, have been trivial. Except it wasn’t. Far from it in fact. For many it was a matter of mortifying embarrassment.
Maybe that says something about skewed perspectives. There’s something grotesque about so many victim’s names from The Troubles being mostly forgotten and Shergar’s still vividly recalled. But this country’s relationship with the thoroughbred has always been different to elsewhere.
This racing-mad young teenager was aghast when told of the kidnap by my mother waking us for school. It was almost beyond comprehension. The adolescent reaction was to ask what poor old Shergar had done to deserve this. And why would any bastard want to do it.
The answer of course was money. The IRA demanded £2 million for the horse’s return. Success in racing is inextricably tied up with wealth so inevitably some of racing’s richest names had bought into Shergar at the start of a stud career that valued him at £10 million.
But in the days and weeks that followed it wasn’t just kids who dealt with jumbled confused considerations other than money.
Shergar had been a rare flat racehorse to transcend the sport. Before the kidnap his was a household name anyway. That’s because he didn’t just win: he won with style and by distance.
Under his cherubic 19-year-old jockey Walter ‘The Choirboy’ Swinburn, Shergar won his first Derby trial race by ten lengths. It memorably prompted the Guardian’s racing correspondent to urge readers to “bet like men” for the Derby. Shergar won his second trial by a dozen lengths.
At a time when Lester Piggott’s widely-copied modus operandi was to win as conservatively as possible, Swinburn and his scampering bay partner with the broad blaze and four white socks represented joyful and unabashed flamboyance.
That Shergar raced with his tongue lolling out even looked like a cheeky dismissal of convention.
Mafia links to New Orleans were speculated on. The Libyan leader Colonel Gadafi was supposedly behind the plot
Sure enough he lived up to his billing at Epsom, winning by ten lengths with Swinburn easing him up for the final 100 metres. The young jockey was suspended for the Irish Derby and Piggott replaced him for a sauntering success just a few hundred yards from Shergar’s birthplace at Ballymany.
A month later the three-year-old sensation beat older horses at his ease in the King George and if his only other race was a scarcely believable reverse he’d already made an indelible impression of towering athletic talent expressed in all of racing’s magnificently trivial and frothy excitement.
It was a joy, colour and glamour sorely lacking in most of Ireland in the early 80’s.
So when Shergar’s owner-breeder, the Aga Khan, declined huge offers for the colt from America, opting instead to syndicate him in Ireland, it felt like more than another wealthy owner availing of tax-free stallion revenue status.
Instead it seemed a stamp of approval as to how the country could still do at least one thing very well.
Of course there’s a danger in projecting too much into this. But it would be disingenuous to pretend it didn’t contain a peculiar resonance too. And somehow such an expression of faith managed to get cocked-up.
It certainly became more than about ‘just a horse.’ The febrile political climate alone made sure of that after February 8th.
Cross-channel coverage of the Garda’s attempts to track down the kidnappers was laced with everything from cod-Irish cartoons to unambiguous contempt.
The hunt for the horse was led by Chief Superintendent Jim Murphy, nicknamed ‘Spud.’ In the absence of much actual information the local police officer inevitably became the focus of media attention, provoking another more uncomplimentary sobriquet, ‘Inspector Clouseau.’
Chief Superintendent James Murphy at a press conference outside Newbridge Garda Station where he gave details of three of the suspected ‘horsenappers’ in the Shergar case. Photo: Getty Images Chief Superintendent Jim Murphy at a press conference outside Newbridge Garda Station where he gave details of three of the suspected ‘horsenappers’ in the Shergar case. Photo: Getty Images
It was an unenviable lot for Murphy who when asked once about possible clues, memorably admitted: “A clue? That is something we haven’t got.”
The bizarre atmosphere throughout the fruitless search included blind-alley negotiations that contained crime-caper passwords which at one point included ‘Johnny Logan.’ The police admitting they were working with diviners and clairvoyants meant it was open season for Keystone Cop puns.
Much of the criticism was unjust. For one thing the kidnappers had a huge headstart that even Shergar in his pomp would have struggled to make up.
On the night of the kidnap it was almost four hours before the Aga Khan’s manager was informed of what had happened. Rather than ring the police his first reaction was to ring his boss in Switzerland. Various other figures got contacted that night, including the then Minister for Finance, and local TD, Alan Dukes, who would deliver a budget speech to the Dáil some hours later.
Shergar had been loaded onto the kidnapper’s horse box before nine in the evening. It was over seven hours later before the Garda were called. That was more than enough time for the world’s most famous racehorse to disappear forever.
The delay in contacting the authorities looks inexplicable now. But such an event was unheard of. Confusion reigned. Nowadays the country’s most prestigious farms are mini-fortresses. In 1983 closing the stable door even after the horse had bolted didn’t seem a priority.
Over the years various conspiracy theories sprouted briefly before their credibility quickly withered.
Mafia links to New Orleans were speculated on. The Libyan leader Colonel Gadafi was supposedly behind the plot. They were all far-fetched in comparison to the pattern of other kidnappings carried out by the cash-strapped IRA at that time.
There’s a lot of bog in Leitrim and the border’s ‘omerta’ culture means no leaks have emerged to help pinpoint any search
The organisation has never formally admitted it but in 2018 a former member, Kieran Conway, admitted “clearly it was. I didn’t personally meet anybody who objected to us kidnapping a horse.”
Others have said that Shergar was dead within a matter of days of his kidnap. Renowned as placid colt during his racing career, as a mature five-year-old stallion he was still not a proposition that even an experienced horse-person would take for granted.
Brutal and wasteful
For the gang to have stolen such a horse without knowing how to handle him properly is as stupid as thoughts of his death are cruel.
There’s little that is edifying about the Shergar tale. It’s mostly just brutal and wasteful and sad. However it immediately grabbed the public imagination. Some years afterwards a less adolescent me helped to drop off some mares at Ballymany. As we pulled in the horsebox driver said “that’s where he was.” There was no need to put a name on the “he”.
The fact he was never seen again probably contributes to continuing public fascination. There’s a lot of bog in Leitrim and the border’s ‘omerta’ culture means no leaks have emerged to help pinpoint any search.
Considering how that “say nothing” culture has helped allow sinister outrages against people go unpunished, it probably doesn’t really matter now about where a long-dead animal ended up.
There still feels something very wrong about it however. Take away the money, intrigue, conspiracies and speculation and you’re left with the dark reality of a beautiful animal being machine-gunned to death by gangsters too stupid and incompetent to look after him properly.
Ireland’s history contains a lot worse. But Shergar’s sorry fate still feels mortifying.
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