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Sport

Kidnapped horse Shergar's fate unknown 25 years on

DUBLIN (Reuters) - He has been immortalised on the big screen, in a beer ad, with a racing cup named in his honour. Yet the fate of Shergar remains an enduring mystery 25 years after the champion stallion was kidnapped.

The celebrated Derby winner was snatched at gunpoint on February 8 1983 from Ireland’s Ballymany stud farm, which was owned at the time by the Agha Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim sect.

The mafia, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the IRA have all been popularly suggested as kidnapping suspects although no official evidence has emerged or any trace of the horse been found.

Memories of the night Shergar was taken still run deep for head stud groom Jim Fitzgerald, who was at home with his family on the farm.

“There was a knock on the door and one of my sons answered,” Fitzgerald, 78, told Reuters. “These fellows rushed in with guns and balaclavas. They told us they were there to take Shergar.”

“It was a terrible thing to happen. It was unreal and dreadful,” he said after a long pause.

Fitzgerald was forced at gunpoint to identify Shergar and help load him on to a horse box which was then towed away.

Security at the farm, which was sold by the Aga Khan in 1991, was lax despite it being widely known that Shergar had been retired to stud with a syndicated value of 10 million pounds.

In the end he only completed one year of service.

Shergar was owned by a syndicate, which included the Aga Khan, a spokesman for the Aga Khan said declining to give further details.

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Shergar’s owners reportedly refused to give in to the two million pound ransom demand for fear of setting a precedent.

The famous flathorse’s disappearance set in motion a massive hunt and media frenzy with sightings becoming as widespread those for fugitive nobleman Lord Lucan.

The investigation was headed up by Irish police chief superintendent James Murphy who, according to media reports at the time, used psychics in his search after failing to come up with any other leads.

Many continue to believe Shergar was taken by the IRA in the hope of extracting money, although the guerrilla group has never commented on it.

Paula Williams, who produced the documentary “Who Kidnapped Shergar?”, said IRA and Irish police sources believed he was killed within hours of being taken after his captors did not realise what was involved.

“I was told Shergar was killed where he stood and shot in the (horse) box and a (mechanical) digger was used to bury him and the box,” she said.

The horse’s legacy has lived on, spawning a Hollywood movie and the Shergar racing cup. A recent advert for Smithwick’s beer had him sitting on a tropical island with singer Elvis Presley, the Loch Ness monster and the Yeti.

For Fitzgerald, the anniversary of his disappearance is tinged with sadness.

“I don’t think we will ever know what happened to Shergar,” he said.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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