From Shergar to Zazou: Stories of Kidnapped Part 2

May 25, 2023

Fanfreluche wins the 1970 edition of the Alabama (Coglianese)

By Michaela Moricova

Everybody has heard about Shergar. I talked about him in the previous part, but he is crucial also for this one as the first topic I cover here is related to a mare that was nicknamed “Canadian Shergar.” Fortunately, her story reached a happy ending, which somewhat ties all the cases in this article together. After last time’s dire experience, I think we deserve some drama stories, but ending on a positive note.

Canadian Shergar

Fanfreluche was born in 1967 in Canada. The bay filly achieved success as a two-year-old and also a three-year-old, earning the title of the Canadian Horse of the Year in 1970. Upon becoming a broodmare, she gave several exciting horses. Stallions like Encosta de Lago and Holy Roman Emperor  belong among her descendants. However, Fanfreluche also reached recognition due to being at the center of a kidnapping in 1977. The FBI searched for her for a couple of months to successfully locate her at a small farm near Tennessee boarders. 

The farm owners claimed they found the mare wandering around, so they took her with them and cared for her until the FBI came. Subsequently, Fanferluche was brought home to the Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, where she gave birth to a healthy colt.

And who was behind the theft? William McCandless

America’s Most Wanted

The guy had already been quite notorious, so it didn’t surprise the FBI, who offered money for any information about the mare’s whereabouts. They got an echo Fanferluche was at a small farm; however, McCandless was arrested for an entirely different matter – stealing farm equipment. It took some time before the FBI made the connection between these two cases and charged McCandless with both. Still, the guy was brilliant at avoiding justice; therefore, he was on the run for a long time before the mentioned charges were made, and once he was released from prison, he was behind some other frauds. However, he has never been arrested again and disappeared into thin air. 

William McCandless was even featured in the American’s Most Wanted. We talked about Fanferluche and mentioned equipment theft, but what about the fraud? Well, the guy was also behind the so-called sponging of several horses. Such an act hampers a horse’s performance in a way undetectable without looking right into the horse’s nose. The culprit affected the horse’s performance by stuffing the animal’s nose with small sponges, preventing healthy airflow. Here you go with the fraud. Obviously, McCandless ensured the favorite lost the race and betted on his rival.

Stealing and Kidnapped

Antonio Sano and Gunnevera (Coglianese)

Although this mini-series mostly revolves around the horses that were kidnapped, also some trainers have experience with either stealing horses or… being kidnapped. You might say the latter does not fit the theme of this piece at all; however, I thought it might conveniently set a mirror to those equine workers who have been involved in any despicable acts connected with horses. One of the most recent cases occurred in 2016 when trainer Jonas Gibson was charged with horse theft. Being in a dire financial situation, Gibson forged the papers of his trainees and sold them without the owner’s authorization. Later, the horses were identified and cared for.

As you might have already guessed, the trainer with kidnapping experience from the other side is Antonio Sano, whose trainee Gunnevera scored two G2 wins and placed in the Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Dubai World Cup. He also delivered a beautiful run in the Saratoga Special. Antonio Sano was the most successful Venezuelan trainer until he… until he wasn’t. He spent more than a month in a cell without windows and often without food and got released by the kidnappers only thanks to being to pay the ransom. However, this rendered him quite poor and desperate to leave the country for the US. He settled with his family in Florida, where he started over with some cheap claiming horses. Still, his journey back to glory was successful, thanks to spotting Gunnevera in the ring. He trusted his guts that this horse was special. And the horse proved he is. 

To Steal and Save

The motifs of stealing a horse usually are not noble, yet the one behind Urgent Envoy’s kidnap could be perceived like that by some. Gail Ruffu definitely saw it as something she had to do to save a horse she loved. While Gail Ruffu was known as a trainer able to calm rebellious specimens down and turn them into gentle animals, Urgent Envoy was just that dangerous colt everybody feared. The owners let her train and nourish him; however, they wanted to see the results. Therefore, Urgent Envoy was run too soon, according to Gail Ruffu, and after finishing last, he developed an injury. The owners wanted him to race again, but the trainer refused, so she was fired. Still, Urgent Envoy has never hit the track again because even the new trainer decided the horse needed some rest. 

Once he seemed fit to race, Gail Ruffu got scared the owners might press him again, regardless of the horse’s condition, so she did what she thought was best for Urgent Envoy – she stole him in Christmas 2004. She perceived it as something she was willing to sacrifice for her career (which happened as she lost her license for six years) and spent a lot of time, energy, and money on trials because she was sued for theft. The disputes stretched for years without resolution, without forgetting bad blood between once partners and friends, yet the true victor of the case is sure. Urgent Envoy spent his life with Gail Ruffu the way she wanted. 

Who’s Next?

In the last part of the series, I will look especially into Zazou’s case that unfolded in 2023, and in recent days, the horse has apparently arrived in Chechnya and reconnected with his owner. Who, ironically, stole him from a stable in the Czech Republic where he stood for a couple of years as a sire. And this is just a small part of a ridiculous story revolving around Zazou and Ramzan Kadyrov.  

Contributing Authors

Michaela Moricova, Past The Wire

Michaela Moricova

Michaela Moricová has been writing about horse racing since high school. At first, only via Facebook, where a group of enthusiasts noticed her and offered...

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@jonathanstettin Great article!

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