Shergar is remembered for winning the 1981 Derby by 10 lengths – still the widest winning margin in the history of the Epsom Classic – and his later abduction, probably by Irish Republican terrorists, whose bungled ransom attempt led to his brutal death.
An attractive bay colt, with a distinctive white blaze and four white socks, Shergar first rose to prominence when winning the Guardian Classic Trial at Sandown by 10 lengths on his seasonal reappearance in April, 1981. Advising Shergar for the Derby, Observer racing correspondent Richard Baerlain wrote, “Now is the time to bet like men.” His confidence wasn’t misplaced, either; following a 12-length win in the Chester Vase, Shergar was sent off 10/11 favourite for the Derby and never gave his supporters an anxious moment.
Ridden by 19-year-old Walter Swinburn – nicknamed “The Choirboy” because of his angelic looks – Shergar swept into the lead shortly after Tattenham Corner and soon spreadeagled the field. BBC radio commentator Peter Bromley exclaimed, “Two furlongs out, the Derby is a procession. There’s only one horse in it – you need a telescope to see the rest.” Shergar crossed the line 10 lengths ahead of Glint Of Gold, who’d won his last two starts, including the Italian Derby, with Swinburn looking over his shoulder for non-existent dangers.
Further success followed, with victories in the Irish Sweeps Derby at the Curragh and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. At the end of his three-year-old campaign, Shergar had won six of his eight races and over £430,000 in prize money. He was retired to Ballmany Stud in Co. Kildare but, less than two years later, on a foggy evening in February, 1983, he was abducted by a gang of at least half a dozen masked, armed men and never seen again. His remains have never been found and his kidnappers have never been officially identified.