On this day in history : 8th February 1983 – Shergar, the 1981 Derby winner is kidnapped from his stable in County Kildare, Ireland….

Shergar – Micheal Daines – fair use

Along with Red Rum, (the three-time winner of the Grand National), Shergar has to be one of the most famous race horses of the last century…. With his distinctive white blaze and socks – and the way he raced with his tongue hanging out – the bay colt won the hearts of the nation….

After an incredible season in 1981 – when he won the Epsom Derby by 10 lengths as well as the Irish Derby – five-year-old Shergar, who was owned by the Aga Khan, was retired from racing….

Shergar was born in Kildare in 1978 – and this was where he was retired to – ready to be put to stud at the Ballymany Stud, Curragh, Co. Kildare…. The Aga Khan sold the horse to a syndicate; 40 shares at £250,000 each – 6 of which he kept himself – making Shergar worth £10 million….

In his first season at stud he bred with 35 mares….and was expected to cover at least 55 in his next…. At a stud fee of £80,000 per time this made Shergar not only one of the most famous horses but also one of the most valuable….

Shergar and Walter Swinburn – by Ray Miller (1981) : image credit – Ken Jones via Flickr

Head groom Jim Fitzgerald lived at the stud with his family…. On the evening of the 8th of February 1983 at around 8.30pm his son answered a knock at the door. Three masked gunmen burst in – part of a gang of at least six…. “We have come for Shergar. We want £2 million for him”….

Fitzgerald’s family were locked in a room and the groom was forced at gunpoint to load Shergar into a horse-box…. He was then ordered to lie on the floor of the van and he and Shergar were driven away….

After about four hours of being driven around Fitzgerald was released roughly 20 miles away, near to the village of Kilcock…. It was several hours before the police were informed – and by this time the trail had already gone cold. There was also a large horse sale taking place locally, with so many horse boxes in the area it made it even more difficult for the Garda….

There was some negotiation between the gang and the Aga Khan – but he was no longer the outright owner of Shergar – possibly the gang did not know this…. No ransom was ever paid out – and contact between the gang and the Aga Khan was severed….

No one ever officially admitted responsibility to the kidnapping – and so nobody has ever been convicted….. However, it is accepted that it was the work of the IRA – as an attempt to raise much-needed funds….

Shergar on his way to winning the 1981 Epsom Derby – George Selwyn – fair use

There have been several theories and rumours as to what happened to Shergar…. One being that the horse fractured a leg bone and as the gang had no access to veterinary help, felt they had no alternative but to shoot him…. Other stories are far more grisly….

As there was no proof of his death Shergar’s insurers refused to pay out…. It is pretty much a forgone conclusion that Shergar’s kidnappers did murder him….and it is believed his remains lie in a bog about 10 miles from the border with Northern Ireland….


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