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.
SIYOUNI and SEA THE STARS were in fine form on Sunday, with Group wins for POLICY OF TRUTH and AL AASY, while the Haras de Bonneval sire also saw his daughter Silvestri finish a close second in the Prix de la Grotte and the Gilltown Stud stallion celebrated two further winners at ParisLongchamp.
ZARKAVA gave birth to a colt by SIYOUNI on Friday 16 April at Sheshoon Stud in Ireland. The bay foal is described by Pat Downes, manager of the Aga Khan Studs in Ireland, as “an attractive, correct colt with plenty quality. He has a lot of presence.”
This is the twelfth foal out of the Champion mare who has been a model of consistency at stud. A son of SIYOUNI who was ranked second leading European sire in 2020, he is a full brother to last year’s Listed winner ZAYKAVA. The undefeated winner of five Group 1s, ZARKAVA has been passing on her quality to her progeny, producing Stakes winner and Group 1 placed ZARKAMIYA (Frankel) and Group 1 winner ZARAK (Dubawi) who stands at Haras de Bonneval and has his first two-year-olds this year.
ZARKAVA has a three-year-old colt by Sea The Stars named Zaskar, a two-year-old filly by Dubawi named Zarka and a yearling filly by Frankel. She will be visiting Lope De Vega this year.
The Aga Khan Studs were in fine form at ParisLongchamp on Sunday, where the blue-blooded EBAIYRA recorded a third Group win in the Gr.3 Prix Allez France and SHERAZ posted a promising second place in the Gr.3 Prix de Barbeville.
American born EBAIYRA represents one of the Aga Khan Studs most illustrious maternal lines, as the daughter of Distorted Humor is out of Group 2 scorer Ebiyza (Rock of Gibraltar) and descends from Ebadiyla (Sadler’s Wells), one of the famous four Group 1 winning siblings with Enzeli, Estimate and Edabiya.
Four-year-old EBAIYRA was making her seasonal debut in the Gr.3 Prix Allez France and she stayed on strongly in the final stages of the ten furlong contest to take the lead from Group 1 placed Raabihah in the shadow of the post. This is a third Group success for the versatile filly who has already won the Gr.3 Prix de Royaumont over a mile and a half last June, the Gr.2 Prix de Pomone over 2500 metres at Deauville and finished third in the Gr.1 Prix de Royallieu over a mile and three quarters during Arc weekend. Alain de Royer Dupré will now consider options for EBAIYRA, and these include the G.2 New York at Belmont Park on 4th June and the filly is also engaged in the Gr. 1 Coronation Stakes at Epsom on the same date.
Later on the ParisLongchamp card, the consistent SHERAZ took second place in the Gr.3 Prix Barbeville stayers’ contest, after two places in Listed company over a mile and a half earlier in the season. SHERAZ is a son of Sea The Stars and Group winner Shemiyla (Dalakhani) and hails from the prolific line of Prix de Diane heroine Shemaka.
Across the globe, Siyouni’s exciting juvenile daughter SEE YOU IN SPRING maintained her unbeaten record and looks a promising filly for the future. Following an impressive debut at Cranbourne in mid-April, SEE YOU IN SPRING was stepped up to Listed company at Morphettville on her second outing and posted another convincing success. Bred by Woodpark Stud, SEE YOU IN SPRING is a daughter of Spring Colours (Shamardal) who was covered by Siyouni to Southern Hemisphere time before being exported to Australia, and the filly was purchased for Aus$85,000 at Inglis Ready to Race Sales last year.
Third Realm, a three-year-old son of SEA THE STARS, was the convincing winner of the LR Derby Trial Stakes at Lingfield on Saturday. The colt, who was bred by his owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, was earning his second victory in as many starts this year.
Third Realm’s trainer Roger Varian said after the race: “He ticks a lot of the boxes in that he’s won a recognised trial, it looks like he’ll get the trip and he’s won on good-to-firm ground at Nottingham and in pretty testing conditions today. He’s a neat, well-balanced colt who ought to handle the undulations of Epsom.”
“It’s the nature of the business that you’re cautiously optimistic when you’re going from a maiden to a recognised trial, but it isn’t a surprise—he’s a colt we think a lot of.”
His jockey David Egan added: “He may have been the outsider of the field, but going down the semi-back straight I had it in my mind I was going to win. He gave me a great feel all the way around. I had to jump him out quick as I was drawn on the outside, but there was a nice pace which helped. I thought he showed a nice turn of foot on the home bend but, fair play, he stayed on well up the straight.
"He's a top-class horse and it's hopes and dreams at this point, but there's no reason he couldn't run in a Derby."
Third Realm became the 76th Stakes winner of his sire SEA THE STARS, who was a superb winner of the Derby himself 12 years ago and has since sired two Epsom Classic champions, Derby winner HARZAND and Oaks winner TAGHROODA
The promising colt made a winning comeback in the Gr.3 Prix de Guiche at Chantilly on Tuesday. Positioned behind the leader, he accelerated freely when entering the straight to prevail under hands and heels.
A very consistent runner at two, he won on debut in June and earned four consecutive victories, winning notably the Gr.3 Prix de Condé by 5 lengths before finishing a promising third in the Gr.1 Critérium de Saint-Cloud.
MAKALOUN was winning his fifth race in six outings in the Guiche, a trial race for the Gr.1 Prix du Jockey Club which will be run on 6 June. A son of Bated Breath, he is out of the Dalakhani mare Makana who is a sister to Stakes winner Markazi.
The Aga Khan Studs flagship sires SIYOUNI and SEA THE STARS were once again in the headlines over the weekend, with another Classic victory for the former, and an exciting European Stakes double for the latter. SAGAMIYRA opened her Pattern account with a win in the Listed Prix Maurice Zilber, and Dary Ci became the latest Black-type performer for her young sire Dariyan.
Champion European Juvenile last season, SIYOUNI’s son St Mark’s Basilica became his sire’s newest Classic scorer on Sunday with an impressive performance to win the Poule d’Essai des Poulains on his seasonal debut. Ridden by Ioritz Mendizabal for Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore team, St Mark’s Basilica raced in the second part of the field in the early stages of the race, but once he entered the straight he responded well to the urgings of his rider and produced a devastating turn of foot in the final furlong. Prior to the Classic, Aidan O’Brien had evoked a likely tilt at the Prix du Jockey-Club for St Mark’s Basilica, and Ioritz Mendizabal declared after the race that the colt would be even better over the 2100m distance at Chantilly. Haras de Bonneval sire SIYOUNI has already sired one Prix du Jockey-Club winner in Sottsass, who went on to lift the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe the following season.
Not to be outdone, Gilltown Stud stallion SEA THE STARS enjoyed a pair of Stakes successes with some highly promising individuals. At Newbury, the lightly raced four-year-old Al Aasy produced an exceptional performance to win his fourth race, and his third Group title, in the Al Rayyan Stakes. Following this four-length success, Al Aasy will now be aimed by William Haggas towards the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom on 4th June. Bred by Sunderland Holdings out of Shamardal mare Kitcara, Al Aasy carries the Shadwell colours.
At ParisLongchamp, SEA THE STARS’ daughter Burgarita displayed Classic potential when remaining unbeaten in her second outing with a smooth and impressive win in the Listed Prix de la Seine. Beautifully bred, Burgarita hails from the family of Aquarelliste, Agathe and Arcangues. The André Fabre trainee is entered in the Prix de Diane at Chantilly on 20th June.
Also in the Prix de la Seine, the consistent filly Dary Ci, from the first crop of Dariyan, stayed on gamely to take third place and become the latest Black-type performer for her young sire.
HH Aga Khan’s colours shone at ParisLongchamp thanks to the very progressive SAGAMIYRA who lifted the Listed Prix Maurice Zilber, her fifth consecutive victory. The four-year-old daughter of Sea The Moon and Saghaniya, from the family of Sagamix has risen through the provincial and handicap ranks and is now set for another step up in class with the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes cited as a likely target by trainer Mikel Delzangles.
Perennial French Champion sire and current third in the European standings, SIYOUNI will be made available at the Haras de Bonneval during the second semester of 2021, to cover mares on a Southern Hemisphere schedule at a fee of €100,000.
The Aga Khan stallion is notably sire of St Mark’s Basilica, Champion European juvenile last season and winner of the Poule d’Essai des Poulains on his seasonal debut earlier this month. The colt is one of three winners of the French Guineas sired by SIYOUNI alongside DREAM AND DO, winner of the French 1,000 Guineas last year, and ERVEDYA, winner of three Group Ones including the French 1,000 Guineas and the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Among the progeny who played a part in SIYOUNI’s phenomenal ascension feature SOTTSASS, hero of the 2020 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Prix du Jockey Club in record time, as well as six time Group 1 winner and Prix de Diane heroine LAURENS.
SIYOUNI has already made a promising debut with his first runners in the Southern Hemisphere, as from only six runners to date, he counts four black-type performers and these include the Listed-winning juvenile See You In Spring. His progeny have proved popular in the sales ring in Australia, with his yearlings selling for up to Aus$550,000.
Out of a Listed-winning Danehill mare hailing from a talented Lagardère/Aga Khan line, SIYOUNI is by Pivotal, whose son Addeybb is the winner of three Group 1 contests in Australia as well as the Champion Stakes at Ascot in the United Kingdom.
SIYOUNI continued his dominant run of form on Sunday at Chantilly as St Mark’s Basilica doubled up after his Poule d’Essai des Poulains victory, storming home to secure success in the Prix du Jockey Club. Thanks to this victory, the Aga Khan Studs sire has now been propelled to the top of the European sires’ rankings on earnings for the season.
Trained by Aidan O’Brien who was winning the French Derby for the first time, St Mark’s Basilica was confidently ridden by Ioritz Mendizabal. After following the leaders, the colt hit the front a furlong and a half from home and accelerated clear of his rivals in a matter of seconds.
St Mark’s Basilica is a complete racehorse, already crowned European Champion Juvenile last year after winning the Dewhurst Stakes, he is now unbeaten at three in two French Classics. Jockey Ioritz Mendizabal believes that the colt will stay a mile and a half, while Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore team will consider options such as the Eclipse Stakes and Champion Stakes. The trainer commented, “His qualities are that he has a lot of speed and he can quicken very well. He's a very relaxed horse, he travels well and he's kind in his races. We thought all those were qualities he would need to win the Jockey Club.”
Bred by Robert Scarborough, St Mark’s Basilica is a son of Galileo mare Cabaret, winner of the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes and dam of 2000 Guineas scorer Magna Grecia. He was purchased as a yearling at Tattersalls by MV Magnier for 1.3 million Guineas.
St Mark’s Basilica’s Prix du Jockey Club success represents a sixth Classic for the Haras de Bonneval sire, after the same colt’s Poule d’Essai des Poulains last month, the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches of Dream And Do and Ervedya, Laurens’ victory in the Prix de Diane and Sottsass who lifted the Prix du Jockey Club in 2019 before taking the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last October.
On Saturday at Epsom, SEA THE STARS was the sire of Derby runner-up Mojo Star. On just his third career outing and his first over a mile and a half, the Richard Hannon trained colt put up a fine performance to finish second to Adayar and he looks to have an exciting future over this distance.
TODAY at Chantilly horse-race (France) - Mowlana Hazar Imam, in Chantilly today, looked 40 years younger than yesterday during the UCA webcast! Can someone share with us the secret of eternal youth please?
PHOTO: H.H. The Aga Khan on 20 June 2021 at Chantilly.
PHOTO 2: Princess Zahra and her daughter Sara at the same horse-race.
One hundred years after the Aga Khan III made his first purchase at the Tattersalls July Sale, the bloodstock empire he built, and which has been carefully cultivated by his grandson, HH the Aga Khan IV, continues to thrive. Following Tuesday's first instalment of the early years of the Aga Khan Studs, the second part sees the baton pass in sad circumstances, heralding a major restructuring of the operation. The text is reproduced by kind permission from the Aga Khan Studs' centenary brochure, written by Emma Berry and John Berry.
The 1950s ushered in Marcus Marsh's tenure as trainer to the Aga Khan III at Fitzroy House in Newmarket, succeeding the ailing Frank Butters. Across town, Harry Wragg, who had set up at Abington Place in 1948, had charge of the horses raced by the Begum Aga Khan, including the 1951 Irish Derby winner Fraise Du Bois, and the 1951 Queen Anne Stakes winner Neron.
Marsh's tenure got off to the best possible start when Palestine won the 2,000 Guineas in the spring of 1950, followed by the St. James's Palace and Sussex Stakes before being retired to stand at Gilltown Stud.
Two years later, Marsh produced an even greater result when Tulyar enjoyed a magnificent campaign, most notably providing his owner with his fifth and final Derby victory. He raced seven times in 1952 for seven wins, his Derby triumph being followed by success in the Eclipse, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and the St Leger. By the end of the year, Tulyar had set two notable financial records. His earnings of £76,577 set a new record for a British-trained horse, and he was sold to the Irish National Stud for £250,000, a new world record price for a thoroughbred.
Tulyar had not been the stable's best juvenile of 1951. That honour fell to the fast filly Tayeh. Her dam Rivaz, a full-sister to Nasrullah, had been a brilliant juvenile in 1945, taking the Queen Mary Stakes and July Stakes. Rivaz became an excellent broodmare, producing six winners from her first seven foals. Tayeh, by Tehran, was very much her mother's daughter, her victory in the Molecomb Stakes enabling her to her to emulate the 1923 victory of her great grand-dam Mumtaz Mahal.
Although the Aga Khan III continued to have horses with Marcus Marsh after the latter's three-year contract had expired, he appointed Noel Murless as his principal British trainer in advance of the 1953 season. He also greatly increased the number of horses which he had in training in France, principally with Alec Head.
The promise of a sizeable intake of horses from the Aga Khan Studs had prompted Murless to leave Beckhampton and buy Warren Place in Newmarket. While still at Beckhampton he had trained Sir Reginald Macdonald-Buchanan's brilliant sprinter Abernant, the brilliant grey whose dam Rustom Mahal (a daughter of Rustom Pasha and Mumtaz Mahal) had been bought by Lady Macdonald Buchanan when the Aga Khan III had sent her to the sales in France. Abernant, widely regarded as the best British sprinter of the 20th century, was at least as brilliant as his grand-dam had been, and his many triumphs had ensured that the Aga Khan III and Prince Aly became very aware of Murless's skills.
Four years after Tayeh's Molecomb Stakes triumph, Rivaz produced the winner of the race again in Palariva. Trained by Alec Head, Palariva did much of her racing in England where her other victories included the King's Stand Stakes at Ascot and the King George Stakes at Goodwood. She subsequently played a vital role in the success of the Aga Khan Studs by becoming the grand-dam of one of the first top-class horses bred and raced by HH the Aga Khan IV, Kalamoun.
A Shared Passion
Rose Royale enjoyed a terrific season in 1957 when she landed the 1,000 Guineas, Prix du Moulin and Champion Stakes. Sadly, her Classic triumph and her victory on the Rowley Mile in the autumn came under different ownership registrations. The Aga Khan III passed away in June that year, meaning that she subsequently raced for Prince Aly Khan, a wonderful judge of a horse and a splendid sportsman who had been playing an ever more important role in the family's operation.
He and his father had shared a passion for the thoroughbred and Prince Aly's enthusiasm and acumen ensured that the world-leading bloodstock operation which his father had built up over nearly four decades was in safe hands.
Tragically, Prince Aly survived his father by only three years. During that agonisingly brief period, Prince Aly enjoyed the thrill of racing one of the most special horses ever produced by the Aga Khan Studs: Petite Etoile, who was by Petition out of Star Of Iran, by Bois Roussel out of May Iran, by Bahram out of Mah Mahal, by Gainsborough out of Mumtaz Mahal.
Petite Etoile's career remains legendary. Racing for four seasons, she ran 19 times for 14 wins and five seconds. She was clearly good from the outset, but not the absolute superstar which she subsequently became. She was beaten eight lengths in a two-horse race at Manchester on debut as a two-year-old and she failed to maintain a family tradition when only second in the Molecomb Stakes. She started her three-year-old season as a 'second string', winning the Free Handicap on her resumption.
Petite Etoile's three-year-old career is astounding to modern eyes, comprising an interrupted run of victories in the Free Handicap over seven furlongs, the 1,000 Guineas over a mile, the Oaks over 12 furlongs, the Sussex Stakes over a mile, the Yorkshire Oaks over 12 furlongs, and the Champion Stakes over 10 furlongs. All the while, her public following was growing, her popularity boosted by the story of her reported preference to exercise on Newmarket Heath only with other grey horses and by the charisma of her owner.
Petite Etoile's splendid three-year-old campaign was the centrepiece of a true annus mirabilis for Prince Aly Khan, so much so that the Bloodstock Breeders' Review dubbed it 'Aly Khan's Year'. In Britain he became the first owner to accrue seasonal winnings in excess of £100,000. Across the Channel his horses with Alec Head were in similarly rich form. Saint Crespin won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe; Chief won the Prix Ganay, and Ginetta, a daughter of Tulyar, gave him his second successive Poule d'Essai des Pouliches victory, following that of Yia the previous year. Along with Taboun's 2,000 Guineas success came Fiorentina's win in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Barely A Dry Eye In The House
Tragically, Prince Aly Khan did not live to enjoy the further glories of these wonderful horses. He was fatally injured in a car crash in Paris in May 1960 and when Petite Etoile lined up three weeks later in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, she raced in the ownership of HH the Aga Khan IV. There was barely a dry eye in the house as she showed her customary burst of “devastating speed” to sprint past the previous year's Derby winner Parthia “as if he were a selling plater” in the final furlong. Emotions again ran high the following year when she contested the Aly Khan Memorial Gold Cup at Kempton, notwithstanding that she suffered a rare defeat that day when finishing second to Sir Winston Churchill's High Hat.
An era ended with the death of Prince Aly Khan, for whom joining his father in the running of one of the greatest owner/breeder operations in racing history had been a continuation as natural as night following day. In the words of Marcus Marsh in his autobiography Racing with the Gods, “the whole uncertainty of racing, the pageantry, the people, captured his imagination in a way that nothing else ever could…He had considerable expertise. Tutored by Michael Beary, he developed into one of Europe's top amateur rides and he always had a good eye for a horse. He made some brilliant buys at the yearling sales.”
Perhaps the last word on the racing empire developed by the Aga Khan III should go to respected English turf historian Peter Corbett. In his 2016 biography of Bahram, Corbett concludes, “It is clear that the Aga Khan III was the most remarkable owner and breeder. Starting from scratch in 1921 until 1961 when one of the last horses he bred, Petite Etoile, ran her final race, he was leading owner (in Great Britain) 13 times and leading breeder eleven.
“The achievements of the Aga Khan III in partnership with Frank Butters, Dick Dawson, George Lambton, Prince Aly Khan et al and continued by HH Aga Khan IV and in recent years assisted by his daughter, Princess Zahra, both on the racecourse and the breeding shed are unlikely to be surpassed.”
A Serious Dilemma
That HH the Aga Khan IV, as the result of the sudden and tragic death of his father, owned the winner of the Coronation Cup in both 1960 and '61 (Petite Etoile) gives a false impression of the level of his commitment to the sport at that stage. A thoroughly accomplished all-round sportsman, hitherto he had been at least as interested in tennis, rowing, ice-hockey and skiing (representing Iran in the men's downhill skiing competition at the winter Olympics in 1964) as racing, understandably working on the assumption that his father would be at the helm of the Aga Khan Studs for many years to come. Prince Aly Khan's unexpected death changed all that.
The racing and breeding empire of which HH the Aga Khan IV had suddenly become master was thriving at the highest level. In the same week that Petite Etoile won her first Coronation Cup, the Alec Head-trained Charlottesville won the Prix du Jockey-Club followed by the Grand Prix de Paris. Shortly afterwards came the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud triumph of Sheshoon, also trained by Head. However, the inheritance of these horses presented HH the Aga Khan IV with a serious dilemma: the decision of whether or not to maintain the bloodstock empire which his grandfather had created and which his father had continued to foster.
It is not the family's way to do anything half-heartedly and, just as his grandfather had realised 40 years previously, the project must be done “thoroughly, or not at all”.
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Typically, he did not take the decision lightly. Happily, from the point of view of the modern bloodstock world, he decided to maintain the studs and consequently to throw himself into the undertaking with enthusiasm and with commitment.
Mathet: An Inspired Appointment
One of the first steps in HH the Aga Khan IV's stewardship of the family's racing empire was to centralise the operation in France. The situation which he inherited had horses in England with Noel Murless and in France with Alec Head, as well as the small string raced by his step-grandmother Begum Aga Khan with Harry Wragg. Success was continuing to flow, such as the 1962 Prix Morny triumph of Darannour, but after careful and lengthy deliberation, he put into effect a major restructuring in 1964, centralising the operation in France with the horses under the care of Francois Mathet in Chantilly. This was an inspired appointment, one whose benefits persist to this day.
Mathet was long established as a master of his profession, training for the great French owner/breeders such as Francois Dupré and Mme. Leon Volterra. There was already a link between HH Aga Khan's family and Mme. Volterra, as the latter's late husband had raced the 1948 Derby winner My Love in partnership with the Aga Khan III the year before Volterra's death.
Even in advance, HH the Aga Khan IV's decision to appoint Mathet as his trainer looked a good one. With the wisdom of hindsight it was positively inspired. Mathet continued to train for his other owners, but his relationship with HH the Aga Khan IV developed into a very special one, their ultimately close friendship based on mutual respect. In an interview with Galop in 1978, HH the Aga Khan IV said of Mathet, “While I learned about breeding elsewhere and from others, everything I learned from racing I learned from him.”
The first champion whom Mathet trained for HH the Aga Khan IV was Zeddaan, winner in 1967 of five sprints including the Prix Robert Papin and in 1968 of the Poule d'Essai des Poulains, the Prix d'Ispahan (which was then still open to three-year-olds) and the Prix de Seine-et-Oise. A son of the brilliant Nasrullah horse Grey Sovereign, Zeddaan was produced by the Vilmorin mare Vareta, who had won the Prix de la Foret as a two-year-old in 1954. His pedigree was suggestive of the Aga Khan III's famous dictum that the three most important qualities in a racehorse were “speed, speed and more speed” and on the racecourse he lived up to his lineage, his victories as a juvenile being so brilliant that it was surprising that he was subsequently able to stretch his speed to a mile, never mind to the 1850m of the Prix d'Ispahan.
Vareta's legacy in the annals of the Aga Khan Studs has continued to develop, most notably with her Poule d'Essai des Poulains-winning great-grandson Ashkalani; and Zeddaan (who was a pure-breeding grey) became an influential stallion, most notably by producing Kalamoun in his first crop. This great father-and-son pair went on to form the nucleus of the Aga Khan Studs' roster in the 1970s (notwithstanding that Kalamoun tragically died after only five seasons) with Kalamoun at Ballymany in Ireland and Zeddaan in France.
A Flourishing Commitment
If the 1960s had been a steep learning curve for HH the Aga Khan IV when it came to the study required in order to oversee the continuance of his family's breeding and racing operation, the following decade could be loosely described as 'construction and reconstruction', both literally and genetically.
On the racing front, Francois Mathet was at the heart of that process of rebuilding while HH the Aga Khan IV had his horses trained solely in France. It wasn't until 1978 that he made a return to the English scene by sending yearlings to Sir Michael Stoute and Fulke Johnson-Houghton.
Kalamoun, from the family of Nasrullah, emulated his sire Zeddaan by winning the 1973 Poule d'Essai des Poulains, becoming the first of three winners of that French Classic during the decade for the successful partnership of Mathet and the Aga Khan. That same year, Kalamoun also won the Prix Lupin and Prix Jacques Le Marois. His stallion career was sadly short-lived as he died at the age of nine, but his influence on the breed, particularly in France, is felt still through descendants such as Kenmare, Highest Honor and Kendargent.
Arguably greater satisfaction was derived from the 1977 Poulains winner Blushing Groom. The son of Red God had been a rare foal purchase by HH the Aga Khan IV, but as his grandfather was the breeder of the colt's paternal grandsire Nasrullah and his grand-dam Aimee, he was certainly not unfamiliar with the family.
Though a Classic winner and also third in the Derby, which tested his stamina to beyond his limit, it was Blushing Groom's sensational two-year-old season for which he will be most notably remembered as a racehorse. Beaten just once on debut, he went on to secure a quartet of Group 1 victories in the Robert Papin, Morny, Salamandre and Grand Critérium and to be crowned champion juvenile. His exploits at stud were similarly remarkable, but by that stage he was not under the sole control of his breeder.
Prior to the Derby, a deal was struck for Blushing Groom to stand in America at Gainesway Farm, with HH the Aga Khan IV retaining a number of shares. His passage to the USA was hastened by an impending embargo on the import of breeding stock following an outbreak of contagious equine metritis in Europe, meaning that Blushing Groom would not run again after finishing runner-up in the Prix Jacques Le Marois.
His purchase and subsequent syndication was however hugely influential for the Aga Khan Studs, for the stallion's valuation in excess of $6 million was to provide the financial wherewithal for HH the Aga Khan IV to make two further highly significant purchases which continue to underpin his operation to this day. Moreover, Kadyissa, a homebred filly from Blushing Groom's first crop, would go on to provide His Highness with the Derby winner Kahyasi.
Largely through the success of his outstanding son Nashwan, Blushing Groom was the champion sire of Great Britain and Ireland in 1989, and leading broodmare sire in 1988 and 1995.
Another son of Zeddaan, Nishapour, brought up back-to-back wins in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains for the owner/breeder and Mathet in 1978. By that stage, the Aga Khan had recently acquired all the stock of the late Francois Dupré. The repercussions of that decision have been felt through the ensuing decades but one horse in particular brought almost instantaneous success, as among the 83 bought from Madame Dupré was a yearling colt by High Top who would become known as Top Ville.
By 1979, he was the winner of the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Lupin, helping HH the Aga Khan IV to become the leading owner in France that year for the first time since 1960. Hard on the heels of the Dupré purchase came the 1978 acquisition of Marcel Boussac's breeding empire which consisted of 144 horses, including Delsy, then a six-year-old mare, who would go on to produce Darshaan.
Naturally, the amalgamation of three significant operations meant a surge in numbers at the Aga Khan Studs. From 1977 to 1980, the broodmare band grew from 75 to 164. While the bloodlines were being expanded and enhanced, so too were the facilities required to give these thoroughbreds the best possible start in life.
Building work at Haras de Bonneval, which had been purchased in the 1960s, was completed in 1973 with a distinctive semi-circular main yard designed for maximum exposure to the sun. The 265-acre Normandy farm is also now home to the Aga Khan Studs' French-based stallions.
Aiglemont, HH the Aga Khan IV's private training centre at Gouvieux, just outside Chantilly, was built in 1977.
Perhaps the most momentous event of this time, however, occurred in Ireland. At Sheshoon Stud, early in March 1978, Sharmeen foaled a bay colt with a distinctive blaze and four white socks who would come to be known beyond just the racing cognoscenti for the best and worst of reasons. His name was Shergar.
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