The acclaimed racehorse, Shergar, rose to fame because of two events that captured people's attention. First, the stallion won the prestigious Epsom Derby in 1981 by an amazing 10 lengths, the longest winning margin ever recorded in the 226-year history of the derby. The second event was not so fortunate: on February 8, 1983, Shergar was kidnapped by masked men and he has never been seen since.
Although he only raced eight times, Shergar won six of these races and left an indelible mark on the racing world, which he dominated in 1981. Aside from the Epsom Derby, Shergar also won two other premiere events that year: Irish Derby Stakes and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. For his stellar year, Shergar was honored as Europe's Horse of the Year in 1981.
Foaled in 1978, Shergar was bred by his owner, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV. He was sired by Great Nephew out of Sharmeen. Shergar made his debut as a racehorse at the 1981 Guardian Classic Trial, which he won by 10 lengths. He would follow this up with another dominating win when he routed the field at the Chester Vase race by 12 lengths.
With those twin victories, Shergar headed to the Epsom as the odds-on favorite. The odds makers proved to be prescient as Shergar grabbed the lead early and never looked back in winning the Epsom Derby. In his next race, the Irish Derby Stakes, Shergar won the race with such ease that one commentator noted that Shergar was merely in an exercise canter. Shergar, who was born in Ireland, was hailed as an Irish national hero after that.
A shrewd businessman, his owner Aga Khan offered 34 shares in Shergar for sale at £250,000 each and retained six shares for himself. Shergar's valuation soared to £10 million, a record at that time.
Unfortunately, Shergar's great value may have ultimately led to his kidnapping in 1983 near Curragh in Ireland. He only spent one season at stud before the kidnapping occurred. The general belief is that the IRA was behind the kidnapping. A ransom demand of £2 million was later made. But when negotiations stalled, the kidnappers cut off all communication and Shergar was never seen again.
The consensus is that Shergar was killed by his kidnappers. However, there is no evidence that indicates conclusively that Shergar is dead or that the IRA masterminded the kidnapping. This has led to widespread speculation and several theories about what really transpired.
Some say Shergar was kidnapped on behalf of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in exchange for weapons. Others say the kidnapping was an act of revenge by horse owner Wayne Murty on Shergar's owner, Aga Khan. A third theory says Shergar was kidnapped by the New Orleans Mafia as a result of a deal gone bad with Aga Khan. To this day, no one can really say for sure what happened.
The Shergar kidnapping inspired many books, documentaries and even a Hollywood movie entitled "Shergar" which was released in 1999 and starred Ian Holm and Mickey Rourke.
To commemorate the great horse, the Shergar Cup at Goodwood Racecourse was launched in his honor in 1999. It pits the best horses and riders from Europe with those from other parts of the world. The Shergar Cup is now held annually at Ascot.