Horseracing StoriesCarreras de Caballos

Shergar, photo from Pacemaker


"Whatever Happened to Shergar?", by Paul Haigh - Pacemaker Magazine -

Once you have eliminated the impossible," said Sherlock Holmes, "whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

The problem about the disappearence of Shergar is that so far none of the suggested explanations can be discarded with absolute confidence.It isn't yet a matter of eliminating the impossible.It's still one of sorting out the plausible.

The syndicate committee may on the anniversary of the kidnap have issued a frank and detailed account of their dealings with those who claimed to have the horse and leant heavily in their conclussion towards the view that the IRA were responsible.But they couldn't be sure; the statement was issued without the collaboration of the police, so it doesn't necessarily represent an official view, and the police themselves state emphatically that they have not yet closed their minds to any of the possibilities.

There are still as many theories about the whereabouts of the 1.981 Derby winner as there are about the identity of this year's, and, if any proof is needed of the fact that horse-napping is more interesting to the general public than kidnapping, try counting the number of times you've been asked "Where's Shergar, then?" by people who normally couldn't tell a Derby winner from a eohippus - then wonder whether they could remember the name of a single human who's been abducted recently.

What is not in dispute about the theft of Shergar is that about 8:40 on the night of February 8th, 1.983, one of the sons of Ballymany stud groom James Fitzgerald answered the door of their house at the stud.He was, in the words of the syndicate committee's report, "forced inside by armed men, and Mr.Fitzgerald himself came downstairs to find his son pinned to the floor.The man put Mr.Fitzgerald's family in one room before taking him and his wife to the kitchen.They were calm and well-behaved after their initial violent intrusion.

"Mr.Fitzgerald was then forced to take the men to Shergar's stall and to assist in loading the horse into a double horsebox, which they summoned up the drive from the main road by two-way radio.At least one of the gang was familiar with handling horses."

The horsebox was then towed away, by and old brown Hillman or Vauxhall car.Mr.Fitzgerald wasn't taken with it but kept in the house for another hour.Then he was driven in a van to the outskirts of Kilcock, a small town 20 miles north of the stud, told that a ransom of 2 million sterling pounds was wanted and warned of terrible things which would happen to him and his family if he went to the police.

At that time he thought that his family was still in the hands of the gang, of whom he had counted at least six and who had "at least" one rifle, one revolver and one sub-machine gun.He went to a call box in a Chinese restaurant and phoned his brother who came to collect him.His brother dropped him on the main road by the gate of Ballymany.He walked the quarter of a mile back to his house and when he arrived there, phoned the stud manager, Ghislain Drion, urging him not to tell the police.

When Drion had driven to Ballymany he phoned the syndicate vet, Stan Cosgrove, to try to decide what should be done.He managed to contact the owner of the stud, the Aga Khan, who was in Switzerland, at about 3 a.m. GMT.After a discussion they decided that it would be "inappropiate and socially irresponsible" to deal with the kidnappers without telling the authorities.At about 4 a.m. Drion phoned the Irish Finance Minister, Alan Dukes.Dukes phoned the Minister of Justice who in turn phoned the police.

The kidnappers rang Drion's home the next morning.His wife told them that he was at the stud.It isn't clear from the report whether the anonymous caller identified himself to Mme.Drion as a kidnapper or whether it was later assumed that he must have been one.This is quite an important point because in the morning only those involved knew that the horse had gone.By the time that Drion was actually contacted at the stud in the afternoon the fact of the theft was commom know-ledge.

The man who phoned the stud had an Irish accent.In all later discussions he acted as sole spokesman for the only group which was able to provide photographic evidence that it ever had Shergar.This evidence consisted of several polaroids of a horse, some with a copy of the Irish News of February 11th included in the shot.Those who knew Shergar were satisfied that these photographs were of him.

The Aga Khan appointed a former SAS man to negotiate with the kidnappers and try generally to effect the horse's return.Sir Jakie Astor, a member of the syndicate committee and a half shareholder in the stallion was formerly involved in "that sort of thing" (the SAS) himself.He has made enquiries amongst people he knows in Whitehall and is convinced that is "a good serious man" and the best possible for the job.

The group which, assuming that it did take Shergar, had shown such efficiency in capturing him, now revealed itself to be surprisingly incompetent in negotiating a ransom.They were first of all unable to understand or unable to be understood by Ghislain Drion whose English (though it may have improved in the last year) is strongly French accented but certainly not unintelligible.They made various demands which were, according to the report, "to a great extent unreasonable and illogical, to the extent that they raised the question as to whether they seriously wanted or expected to receive a ransom".

Rather curiously perhaps, they demanded a contact number in Paris.They appeared not to understand that the syndicate had 34 members.They never wavered from the by now well publicised figure of 2 million Sterling Pounds but at one point they asked for it to be paid in 100 Sterling Pounds notes, which, as every self-respecting bigtime kidnappers ought to know, do not exist.

According to Sir Jakie Astor:"At the time we all took the view that of course we were going to negotiate but we weren't going to pay."

The main reason for this attitude was that to pay would have set a precedent which would have meant that no stallion anywhere could be safe.

Shergar winning the 1.981  Epsom Derby, photo from Pacemaker

After they had received the photographs (four days after the kidnap) the committee therefore instructed their negotiator to tell the Irish spokesman that they were still not satisfied."If you're not satisfied," said the spokesman, "that's it."

He hung up and never called again.

The syndicate committee believe that the group they were dealing with was probably connected with the IRA.They believe too that Shergar was probably killed by his kidnappers after this telephone conversation on February 12th.They are inclined to believe that all other "contacts" were hoaxers or opportunists.

What are the theories behind Shergar's disappearance? One is that Shergar was taken by the IRA but that in this case the IRA was acting on behalf of its benefactor Colonel Ghadafi of Libya.Ghadafi, according to this theory, has a religious and an ideological dislike of the Aga Khan and wanted the kidnap organised in order to humiliate his enemy.

The chief protagonist of the Ghadafi/IRA theory is Colin Turner, the racing man of LBC, a local news radio station in London.Shortly after Shergar disappeared Turner was telephoned by an Irishman who did not give his name.He decided to call the man James Beag."Beag" succeeded in persuading Turner that he knew something about the kidnap and proceeded over a period of months to bounce Turner round various phone boxes, hotels and areas of local interest in London and Ireland.At one point a scrap of a map of northern France was wedged in the wing mirror of his parked car, by, he assumed the man he calls Beag.

Colin Turner has written a book about these experiences.Even if you agree in principle with the idea that dog shouldn't eat dog it would be hard to find anything very kind to say about "In Search of Shergar".It is quite and embarrassing book partly because it is very vainglorious, partly because the author portrays himself as a man incapable of sequential thought, partly because it contains some quite amusing bits of misinformation.

It is difficult to take it seriously.It may not matter much that some syndicate members' names are misspelt (e.g."Jackie Werthenheimer") or that when he is told by "Beag" to talk to Sir Jakie Astor he asks for him at the House of Lords (although his claim that secretaries at the House of Lords told him that Sir Jakie was "away on holiday, out of the country", does seem to suggest that Turner is not one to let his imagination be tyrannised by facts).The thing that makes the book ridiculous is that the inside information which convinced Colin Turner that "Beag" knew something about Shergar's whereabouts was freely available to anyone who had read that morning's Irish papers.

This ball was actually bowled at Turner on an Irish TV chat show.To his (sort of) credit he managed to give the impression that he had deliberately let it go and then continued to bat as though his stumps were still intact.

It isn't always safe to dismiss a theory just because of the way it's been arrived at - old ladies do sometimes find winners with pins -but it doesn't do much for the Chadafi/IRA theory that Turner arrives at it, as he reaches several other conclusions, without much apparent reference to preceding evidence.His most powerful reason for his belief that the IRA are involved, for example, is the fact that "James Beag" knew that he had been eating brown bread and butter in a Dublin hotel one morning.Few logicians would accept this evidence as conclusive.

The Wayne Murty theory had also received plenty of attention - particulary in the Daily Star's "Exclusive Super Series" which began on November 8th.The theory still has its supporters although it is based solely on a presumed motive.Mr.Murty, they suppose, has good reason to feel a sense of grievance against the Aga Khan because of his unsuccessful attempts to establish the legal validity of his initial purchases of horses owned by the late Marcel Boussac.What better way, they think, to avenge himself on the Aga Khan than by having his greatest horse stolen?

As there is no evidence to support this slur, there is also very little that can be done to refute it.The only thing that can be said is that the people the syndicate dealt with didn't seem to have much idea of how a syndicate works or even that the Shergar syndicate had more than two or three members.No-one could accuse Wayne Murty of such ignorance.Those who want to sustain the slur might talk about deliberate false leads but there isn't much you can do with people who, having decided that their idea is right, reckon that anything which appears to contradict it must be a smokescreen.

The New Orleans Mafia Theory is another seductive one.It is based on the notion that there is some obscure way a connection through the French bloodstock agent Jean Michael Gambet who was found dead in a burning car with a gunshot wound in his head, in Kentucky on December 13th 1.983.People say that Gambet was in debt, having borrowed Mafia money to try to buy Champion Stakes winner Vayrann from the Aga Khan.The deal fell through.Gambet is supposed not to have been able to pay back what he owed.He is therefore supposed to have sat in his car, set fire to it and then shot himself.The state medical examiner, however, produced several bits of forensic evidence to suggest that he had not committed suicide, the strongest of which is the fact that he bullet which went through his head (not found) almost certainly came from a gun of a different calibre from the one which was found in the wrecked car.

Kentucky may not be Detroit but there are far more murders per head of population in the USA than there are in Ireland - far more even than in the six countries of Northern Ireland.When a death looks as difficult to work out as Gambet's was, the police sometimes tend to concentrate their efforts on more easily soluble crimes.It now seems very unlikely that we will ever know how or why he died, whether he was killed by what Edard G.would certainly have called The Mob or whether by some process of reasoning the Mob then decided that the Aga Khan therefore owed them a racehorse.

If that is the suggestion, it then seems the Mob doesn't have much idea about syndication either.Fans of this theory do like to point out though that if the Aga Khan had ever woken up (Godfather style) with a horse's head beside him he would have been unlikely yo have decided that it would increase his dignity if he advertised the fact.

The whole thing does make Dick Francis read like Enid Blyton and is almost as extraordinary as the suggestions which have been bandied about in pubs that either Shergar was rubbed out by a rival stud or the syndicate members themselves arranged his disappearance because something had gone wrong with him.Anyone who believes the last one really does deserve to win a Teddy Bear.Not only was the horse well and many of the members uninsured but if you believe them capable of such collusion you will probably believe that Mother Theresa is selling mustard gas.

There are one or two other theories which just about go off the scale of any implausability meter.Shergar, says one, is in one of the wilder parts of the Ireland in the hands of a dotty farmer.Either he's been gelded and will turn up at one of the less famous Irish race meetins in a year or so to be backed down in a bumper from 50/1 to odds on, or else he has not been gelded and "sons" of less illustrious stallions will turn up in a few years time to do more or less the same thing.

The second of these ideas is only slightly less silly than the first but they are are based on an interesting premise: the horse could be alive and hidden in Ireland.Much has been made of the fact that the Irish love to talk, often about horses and often over a pint or two.People say that the concealment or disguise of anything so obvious as a thoroughbred stallion would therefore be impossible.Opinion about this in Ireland differs but there are a few people who will tell you that there are areas of, say, Country Clare which are virtually uninhabited, or that there areas of Country Leitrim where no-one would tell you the time if the Republicans told them not to.

Yet another semi-facetious theory which is most interesting for the premise on which it is based is the one about the Mad Sheikh.Shergar, runs this one, was somehow spirited out of the country, either by air or by sea, and is now in the possesion of some desert sheikh who cares nothing for his commercial value but just wants to improve his own breed of horses.

The interesting question which this raises is whether or not Shergar could have been taken out of the country without anyone knowing.

Shergar, paint from www.fineart.co.uk

Jonathan Irwin, who was managing director of Goff's thought that "the idea of a plane evading air traffic control or of a freighter slipping into the lough at midnight is strictly for the birds.I just can't believe that it could have been done without customs twigging either here or in the country he was being taken to".This supposes not only Irish efficiency but also secrecy was necessary at the country of destination, but air and sea traffic are so well monitored that he is probably right about an unauthorised plane or ship.At least one vet in Ireland (who wishes to remain nameless) is quite sure however that a horse could easily be smuggled out by sea if he was drugged and put into a container whose passage had been prebooked.

It might not even be necessary for the horse to be unconscious: many horses are shipped from Ireland to France for their meat.But in all such speculation we come up against the problem of motive.Shipping a horse secretly from one country to another may well be possible but a Derby winning stallion is only valuable if you can proclaim him.It would be more difficult to derive financial gain from illegal possesion than it would be to find a buyer for the Mona Lisa if you stole it.

A French-based Lebanese businessman told me with some authority that Shergar had been taken not by the Mafia or the IRA but by French organised crime and that the use of Irishmen on the phone had been purely a device to disguise this fact.It happened in Ireland rather than in England or France because of the perceived efficiency of law enforcement agencies in those countries.The Aga Khan refused to pay and the horse was killed, he said.It would be happen again.Needless to say he did not reveal his source of information so no more credence need really be given to this view than to any of the other guesses-except perhaps that talk of France does seem to crop up just a little more often than might seem to be justified by the fact that the Aga Khan has his base there.

The IRA theory is the one with by far the strongest backing.A widespread belief that it was their work may account for people preferring other topics of conversation in the pubs of Newbridge nowadays: that and the fact that the Shergar topic has been very nearly talked out.

One of the problems about the IRA theory is that the IRA have not, in the BBC's now disued euphemism, "claimed responsability".Many people in Ireland who think that the kidnap bears many of their hallmarks are mystified by this.If the IRA do something, they say, they always let people know that they've done it.Publicity for operations is after all esential to secret armies.

Stan Cosgrove is not impressed by this objection.He thinks that the silence is proof that the IRA did it.If it had been anyone else there would have been some talk; someone would have let something drop."What they've done is repulsive thing to the Irish people.It would affect their fund raising in America and that's why they didn't admit to it.They could have taken Garrett or Margaret Thatcher and not lost any support, but a horse like Shergar is different".

There may be a lot to this but there must still be a doubt raised by the silence.The IRA and its offshoots have, after all, admitted to many crimes which, in most people's eyes, would seem to be more repulsive and cruel than the kidnap and slaughter of any horse.To some the silence that surrounds Shergar's fate smacks a good deall more of Sicilian Omerta than any Irish tradition.

Opinions and "contacts".If the Irish police have reached a conclusion they are not prepared to make it public.Their best chance of catching the gang probably went during the understandable period which elapsed before they were notified.Superintendent Murphy has had a rotten press over the Shergar affair.He has good record of detection behind him, having solved the Rose Dugdale case amongst others; but he has no reason to love British journalist who decided immediately-once it became clear that neither recovery of the horse nor arrests were imminent- that a bit of copy on Murphy's manner would have to do instead.

Some thought that he was funny and began to call him Inspector O'Clouseau.A bunch of them noticed that he always wore what they thought was a quaint hat and embarrassed him by turning up at a televised press conference all wearing identical headgear.Superintendent Murphy apparently made some Irishmen wriggle their toes uncomfortably when he ended a similar interview by saying simply that he thought it was time for his lunch now, and there are numerous funny stories in currency in Kildare about the general ineptitude of the ordinary policemen on the case, some of whom don't know any more about the horses than town boys anywhere.

One of these stories, fairly typical, tells of two constables, on a farm search, gravely lifting the tail of an elderly chesnut gelding and taking quite a while to decide that he was not in fact the missing super-stud

"No more interviews", said Supt.Murphy

Could he just say whether the syndicate committee's statement had the approval of the police?

"No more interviews".

It was left to Superintendent Noel Anderson in Dublin to make whatever statements were going.

Were there any expert horsemen involved in the police investigation?

"All resources we needed were made available to us".

Has anyone on whom suspicion might have fallen been eliminated from enquiries yet?

"I can make absolutely no comment on individuals but I can say that all options are still open".

Do you approve of the syndicate committee's statement?

"No comment I'm afraid.I'm sorry I can't be more helpful but you must remember that the investigation is still continuing".

Jonathan Irwin expresses a view which is very similar to most of those who are close to the case.

He initially favoured the Mafia Theory but now rejects the more fanciful explanations and feels that the horse's fate was more mundane and in a way more sordid."I would think that the people who took him probably weren't horsemen and if at some point he got excited they probably wouldn't have been able to understand what the hell was going on.The horse might have hurt himself dramatically by putting his foot through and old trailer or something and then either died of natural causes or else they shot him."

He rates the attempted kidnapping of Galen Weston and the kidnapping of Don Tidey as new evidence which suggests that a group within the IRA began a series of kidnaps with the theft of Shergar."I doubt whether he'll ever found now but I should think that he's buried somewhere up in the borderlands".

Irwin, referring to the attempt by the Irish Breeders' Council to recover the horse, described Captain Sean Berry as the man who volunteered to be "the goat staked out" for kidnappers.He described Captain Berry as "a man who doesn't much like publicity" and thinks he deserves all the more praise for his efforts because of this.

For two months from March 17th 1.983 (St.Patrick's Day) Sean Berry and his staff at the Equine Research Centre at Johnstown manned phones night and day in the hope of establishing contact."There were lots of calls", he says, "from clairvoyants, religious maniacs, people suffering from all sorts of malignancies of the head.The girls were driven nearly demented.Eventually I established contact with people I was certain were subversives" (the Irish code word for IRA and offshoots)."I worked closely with the police and they confirmed that I was being tailed by a known member of a subversive organisation.

"The gist of our negotiations was that I was supposed to pay 250.000 Sterling Pounds for Shergar's return.I've decided criticised in the English press for this but people who wrote these criticisms didn't realise that there never never was 250.000 Sterling Pounds and it wouldn't have been paid even if there had been".

Captain Berry had very strong doubts about whether the subversives had Shergar or were simply acting opportunistically; but he knew how dangerous it was to try to deal with them in this way.He thought that the horse was dead - he's now sure of it - but went ahead anyway in the hope of finding something out.

After a while - which included a break in the Canary Islands with his family when the ringing phones and the lack of sleep had all but broken him down - he was abandoned by the people he'd been dealing with.They had presumably realised that they weren't going to get any money out of him

A group, possibly the same one, then approached Stan Cosgrove.After a while a man called Denis Minogue, a horse dealer who lives in Country Clare, persuaded Cosgrove that he, Minogue, had been taken blindfolded to a hideout where he'd seen Shergar twice."He gave me details about the horse which convinced me", says Cosgrove.

Stan Cosgrove twice sent Denis Minogue large sums of money (between 40.000 and 50.000) as tokens of his sincerity.Minogue sent them back.Eventually the vet received a message that he should send a larger sum (80.000 plus 10.0000 commision) to a rendezvous in County Clare.The money is supposed to have been put in the boot of Denis Minogue's car which he parked near the remote rendezvous and went on foot as directed.When he got back to the car he found that the boot had been broken open and was empty.Stan Cosgrove finds it hard to believe that passing thieves broke into the boot on an off-chance, even though Minogue sent back the 10.000 Sterling Pound commission.The money was Stan Cosgrove's own.

Mr.Minogue was in London recently.His farm manager in County Clare thought that his boss might be available for an interview but Minogue didn't turn up at the place suggested by the manager.Perhaps he failed to get the message.He is an elusive man whose phone always seems to be aswered by someone else.

Stan Cosgrove does not now think that Denis Minogue ever saw the horse although he claimed to have done so as late as August 1.983.Cosgrove too, now believes that the horse died about four days after the kidnap.There has been no other contact with anyone vaguely convincing.

It would be interesting to know whether the British police are questioning Dominic McGlinchey about Shergar as much rumour sites Shergar's grave in McGlinchey's territory around Ballinamore, Co.Leitrim.Maybe they have more important things to ask him.

If there are any other obvious leads perhaps they are known to the police.The Aga Khan still feels that: "It is very important that the authorities get to the bottom of the affair, in the interests of the bloodstock industry in general and of the Irish bloodstock industry in particular".

He endorses the report and says that nothing has happened since its release which might persuade him that Shergar is still alive.One of his aides emphasises that the Shergar affair must now be seen in the context of the attempts on Galen Weston and Don Tidey.

The SAS man is still on the case.His fictional counterpart James Bond might have solved it by now.Sherlock Holmes could certainly have done so though even he would have had to admit that it was at least "a three pipe problem".

"You know my methods", said Conan Doyle's hero to the bumbling Watson who represents the rest of us."Apply them".