Shergar wins the 1981 Epsom Derby (CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
By Michaela Moricova
Everybody has heard about Shergar. Even people who care about horse racing once or twice a year at the time of the Kentucky Derby and/or Breeders’ Cup. Aga Khan-owned bay won the 1981 Epsom Derby by a record-setting ten lengths and retired to stud a champion. Subsequently, he was syndicated into forty shares and stood in Ireland. In February 1983, Shergar was kidnapped by an armed gang who demanded ransom for returning the horse. As you probably know, the story does not end well, which is a common theme of similar acts in recent history. In this mini-series, I look at famous and less-known stories revolving around horse racing and kidnaps, while some might not sound familiar to you at all.
It’s not just Shergar.
The negotiations with the gang that kidnapped Shergar lead nowhere. The gang could not prove that the horse was still alive, and the owners refused to pay any money, so the team broke off all communication. Fifteen years later, it was disclosed that Shergar hurt his leg badly. He probably panicked during the kidnap, and they shot him because the criminals didn’t know what to do with an injured horse. His body has never been recovered, and nobody was arrested. Yet, it has been revealed the whole operation could have been conducted by IRA, an Irish terrorist organization, in the hope of raising some money for their violent cause.
So, that’s Shergar’s story. But have you ever wondered if there have been any other kidnaps of famous racehorses? Maybe the cases weren’t that medialized as the horses weren’t champions like Shergar; however, I tried to dig through the internet to search for kidnaps or thefts, having some peculiar circumstances. And before I talk about a case that has happened relatively recently in a country of my origin, I will mention other ones, including some of the dire consequences.
You might also recall another operation orchestrated by a terrorist group in Libya in 2000. The largest stud in the African country suffered under the turbulent times but desperately tried to blossom there. However, the Al Shaab Stud received almost a deathly blow when nearly sixty horses were stolen by an armed militia from Tarhuna, located close to the capital city of Tripoli. The attackers raided the stud twice, stealing some blue-blooded mares-in-foal and several renowned stallions. Dr. Amad Eshaab informed about the horrendous act on Twitter. The stud veterinarian experienced the raid first-hand, stressing that most notably, a half-brother to A.P. Indy, Eavesdropper, and G1 placed Churchill Downs were taken and would face horrendous fate in the hands of such barbarians the terrorists were.
It took six months of Dr. Amad Eshaab’s diligent work to get some of the horses back. He conducted a social media campaign and contacted the UN. In June, Tarhuna City was finally liberated. 38 horses out of 59 returned; unfortunately, Eavesdropper and Churchill Downs weren’t among them. Other stallions, Metternich, Brut Force, and Raise a Grand, were malnourished but alive like some mares, but the missing duo has not been found yet.
Almost Horror Stories
While Shergar was kidnapped with a ransom on attackers’ minds, some raiders decided they would easily steal racehorses and sell them for meat. Or either butcher them right away, leaving their heads or even the whole skeleton behind. That was the case of a famous Venezuelan horse Ocean Bay. Born in 2013, the colt captured the nation’s heart by achieving the Venezuelan Triple Crown. Later, he sustained an injury, but being a true fighter, he pulled through to add other luxurious prizes to his resume. However, the country of his origin has been suffering from hunger, resulting in desperate people stealing horses more and more often, slaughtering them for meat. Therefore, Ocean Bay and other horses located at the Haras farm fell victim to that, being stolen in 2020. Only his skeleton was found.
War on the Homefront faced a similarly dreadful in South Florida. The valiant servant for the connections around Meg Weinberger raced 97 times and sustained injury in his final outing. Although the injury was life-threatening, War on the Homefront still finished the race in third place and showed determination when his owners decided to attempt to save him. After what he had done for them, they felt obliged to at least try, and after a year, everything finally seemed to be alright with War on the Homefront. He pulled through and was set to enjoy his retirement. Unfortunately, the happy times lasted only shortly, as, in February 2018, the bay was reported missing. Later, his head and a leg were found, and Eric Weinberger vowed to find those who butchered their beloved bay.
To properly hook you on this mini-series, I have mentioned in the title that I’ll look into the incident around G1-placed bay Zazou, owned by Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov. I will also dig into some kidnappings of Standardbreds as well as present a story that even preceded Shergar’s infamous disappearance. It was tied with a Canadian Horse of the Year in 1970 and a notorious criminal who had his fingers in many nefarious pies. But don’t worry, the second part’s stories have happy endings, so we can enjoy some respite.
If you want to learn more or take your mind off the Kentucky Derby for a while, drop by to see the next part or look at, for example, the Hall of Fame inductees.
Photo of Shergar winning the 1981 Epsom Derby by tikitoy998, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons