Mystery of Shergar the champion horse who was kidnapped

  • bay horse by Great Nephew – Sharmeen
  • Foaled: 1978
  • Trainer: Michael Stoute
  • Owner: HRH The Aga Khan

History Of Shergar

This superstar demolished his opponents so comprehensively in 1981 that he became a strong contender for the best horse of the Century. At one stage there was even a debate over whether he was a better horse than Sea Bird!

The colt was bred and owned by the Aga Khan, whose horses generally arrived late from the Stud, Shergar was seriously worked only after Autumn. In his workouts Shergar greatly impressed Michael Stoutes senior work rider Cliff Lines. Cliff felt the colt had the potential of a classic winner. Shergar was by Great Nephew (finishing secod to Kashmir in the 1966 2000Guineas) , a topclass miler, whose progeny won races upto distances of 10 furlongs, with the exception of Grundy. (the 1975 Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and King George winner) .

Shergar’s dam Sharmeen was placed upto amile and a half and won upto 10 furlongs. Shergar was a deep-girthed colt with a distinguished action. He was not particularly graceful at top pace yet his action was most effective. (good-actioned at slower paces) As a two year old Shergar’s career was reminiscent of other great horses like Dancing Brave and Ribot, who never revealed their true potential as two year olds. Shergar made a winning debut in the Kris plate at Newbury in September. He won this race quite impressively, by 2 anda half lengths in course record time in a field of 23. However in his next race in the William Hill Futurity he was beaten convincingly by Beldale Flutter.

Shergar The Horse Who Was Kidnapped

Shergar was well below his true self that day and the most likely reason was his lack of experience. As a result of that showing Shergar was not rated very highly as a two year old, being placed 31st in the European Free Handicap. As a three year old Shergar gave some devastating performances in his morning workouts. The colt would outclass his opponents by 10 lengths. Shergar made his debut in the Guardian Classic trial at Sandown. He simply devoured his opponents to win by 10 lengths, seizing the lead 10 furlongs from home. 10 days later he trounced his opponents by 12 lengths in the Chester Vase. He simply stormed clear of Sunley Builds in the straight.

Historically the Chester race gives a strong indication of a colt’s ability to perform in the Derby. The circuit at Chester was only a mile around and is on the turn almost throughout. Shergar had now become the hottest Epsom Derby favourite since Sir Ivor in 1968. On Derby day Shergar was odds on Favourite at oddsof 11to 10, the third post war horse to stand odds on in the Derby. Shergar remained third till Tattenham Corner in the hands of the young but most capable Walter Swinburn, behind Riberetto and Silver Season. Decsending Tattenham Hill Shergar was cantering on the bridle. On entering the straight Swinburn let go of him and his mount simply drew away like a passenger train from the rest of the field to win being pulled up by a staggering 10 lengths-the widest margin ever in the history of the big race!In the closing stages Shergar receiver 3 cracks of the whip to insure victory. A furlong from home Swinburn could hardly imagine how far ahead he was over the rest of the field. Had Shergar not been eased up he certainly would have won by a distance. Racegoers at Epsom that day not only watched perhaps the greatest Epsom Derby victory but one of the greatest racing performances of all time.

In his post race interview Walter Swinburn said, “I was just a passenger on a very good horse. “Shergar had simply treated his opponents like Starters Hacks. Glint of Gold finished runner-up with Scintillating Air third. Shotgun finished fourth ahead of Church Parade, Sheer Grit, Silver Season, Riberetto, Sunley Builds and KingsGeneral. Only 5 participants had finished within 20 lengths of Shergar. Unfortunately Beldale Flutter the Mecce Dante Stakes winner missed the race as he had met a bad accident. The best French horses stayed at home to participate in the Prixdu Jockey Club. 12 days after Epsom Shergar broke loose in a morning gallop and was traced with great difficulty.

The horse was saved from the jaws of disaster, being caught by a van driver outside Henry Cecil’s Stable. Fortunately all was sound and he started as a strong 3 to 1 favourite. Shergar faced firm going for the first time, having never faced extreme types of going. This time Lester Piggot was to partner Shergar as Walter Swinburn had been suspended. Using his vast experience Lester rode the colt in a most perfect manner letting the colt loose on the home turn. Shergar passed the leaders as if they were pillars. In the last 3 furlongs he drew away to win in an exercise canter by 4 lengths from Cut Above with Dance Bid finishing a lengthanda half behind third. Shergar had devoured his rivals like a tiger, becoming the thirteenth horse to complete the Epsom and Irish Derby double.

To prove one’s self as a truly great horse a horse has to be tested against the older horses of his era. In the King George 6th and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes Shergar faced older horses for the first time like Master Willie, (that year’s Coronation Cup and Eclipse Stakes winner and previous year’s Epsom Derby runner up) Light Cavalry (Previousyears St Leger winner) and Pelerin. (Hardwicke Stakeswinner) Shergar’s main rival amongst 3 year olds was Madame Gay, the French Oaks winner. Light Cavalry set the pace with Master Willie disputing second place with Shergar. With 5 furlongs to go Master Willie was pushed into the leadOn entering the straight Shergar lay in third place on the rails, blocked by Madam Gay. As the runners straightened for home Light Cavalry came off the rails thus enabling Shergar to get a gap to launch a clear run. At this point Swinburn pushed his mount and Shergar responded in truly great style , winning by 4 lengths from Madam Gay.

Shergar had followed the footsteps of Nijinsky, Grundy, the Minstrel and Troy and became the 5th horse to achieve the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and King George treble. Commentator Jimmy Lindley stated that “now Shergar could join the Ribot’s , Sea Bird’s and the Nijinsky’s. “However this time the 4 lengths he spared meant precisely what they meant. Shergar also had the fortune of a gap opening up in the straight. Nobody can deny however that Shergar had won like a true champion. After the Epsom Derby Shergar had been syndicated for 10 million pounds, a record sum to the Ballymany stud in America. Now Shergar had only to achieve one more task . That was to become the first horse to win the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby, King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes and the Prix del’Arc de Triomphe. As a preliminary race to the Arc Shergar was to run in the St. Leger. Shergar started 6 to 4 favourite and was working well at home.

There were rumours that Shergar had lost his earlier sparkle in the morning gallops but many experts refuted this. Alas, Shergar finished a poor 4th. Shergar travelled close to the leaders on entering the straight and after being urged by Swinburn seemed set for victory. However Shergar simply did not respond and Swinburn was forced to use the whip. In the final 3 furlongs Cut Above Glint of Gold and Bustomi drew further and further away making the champion look a very mediocre horse. In the end Shergar finished 11 and a half lengths behind the winner.

The cause of Shergar’s defeat is debatable. Some feel he was past his best for the season. Others are of the opinion that Shergar could not stay the 1 mile 4 furlong Leger distance as he was a quick-actioned horse. The latter to me seemed the true cause as Shergar’s closest associates had stated that he was working as well as before. Sadly for racing the Aga Khan did not enter Shergar for the Prixdel’Arc de Triomphe. Shergar was reportedly working very well but his connections feared the possibility of losing which would have tarnished the great horse’s reputation. Racing fans were highly bitter over this. Shergar earned a timeform rating of 140 only behind Sea Bird (145), Ribot (142) and MillReef (141) amongst middle-distance runners. Vaguely Noble and Dancing Brave were rated on par with him at 140 .

Shergar was a true equine superstar who devoured his opponents in the two Derbies as perhaps no horse had ever done before. His Epsom Derby win was probably the greatest win ever in the history of the Blu Riband. It was one of Sport’s greatest tragedies that Shergar was kidnapped and killed by the Irish Republic Army. The colt had been retired to the Ballymany Stud.

On February 9th 1983, he was kidnapped and slaughtered within a week. The grief caused to our community of racing fans was indescribable overshadowing the great moments of the colt’s spectacular triumphs.

BY Harsh Thakore thanking Timeform’s ‘ Favourite Racehorses’ for Information as well as Julian Wilson’s great racehorses.