Until February, 1983, Shergar was best known as a champion racehorse. Owned by the Aga Khan and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, Shergar enjoyed a hugely successful three-year-old campaign, in which he won the Derby, by an unprecedented ten lengths, Irish Derby and King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. At the end of his racing career, in October, 1981, Shergar was syndicated for £10 million and sent to stand at Ballymany Stud, in Co. Kildare, Ireland.
However, less than two years later, on the evening of February 8, 1983, Shergar was abducted, along with Jim Fitzgerald, head groom at Ballymany Stud, by a group of armed, masked men and driven away in a horsebox. Fitzgerald was eventually released, four hours later and twenty miles or so away from Ballymany, but warned, upon pain of death, not to contact the Gardaí. Fitzgerald did contact stud manager Ghislain Drion who, in turn, attempted to contact the Aga Khan. It was not until eight hours after the event that the kidnapping was reported to the police service, by which time Shergar was long gone.
British horse racing journalists Derek Thompson, John Oaksey and Peter Campling were called in, at the behest of the kidnappers, to conduct ransom negotiations. However, a series of polaroid photographs of the head of a horse, alongside a copy of the ‘Irish News’, dated February 11, proved insufficient ‘proof of life’ for the owners. In any event, four days after the abduction, the kidnappers made a final telephone call, including the code phrase ‘King Neptune’ – which had earlier been given to Jim Fitzgerald – to inform negotiators that Shergar had died ‘in an accident’.
The only certainties are that Shergar was never seen alive again, his body has never been recovered and no arrests have ever been made in relation to his abduction. His fate remains an abiding mystery, subject to speculation and conjecture. The consensus, though, is that Shergar was kidnapped by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and machine gunned in a stable near Ballinamore in Co. Leitrim after injuring himself.