Shergar

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.

‘Fan Man’

The boxing history books record that Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield II, a world heavyweight championship rematch staged at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas on November 6, 1993, resulted in an uninspiring points win for Holyfield. However, the bout will always be remembered, not for its outcome, but rather for its interruption, during the seventh round, by the unscheduled arrival of 30-year-old James Miller, a.k.a. ‘Fan Man’.

Propelled by a motorised parasail or, in other words, a powered paraglider, Miller reportedly circled several times before crashing onto the apron of the ring. The suspension lines of his parachute caught in the overhead lights, as a result of which he fell, or was dragged, backwards into the crowd, where he was promptly set upon by security staff and spectators and beaten unconscious. Indeed, Miller later quipped, “It was a heavyweight fight, and I was the only guy who got knocked out.”

In any event, the contest was suspended for twenty-one minutes while the parachute was untangled and, meanwhile, Miller was rushed to hospital. His injuries were only superficial and he was subsequently jailed, briefly, charged with dangerous flying and released on $200 bail. Miller claimed he had landed in the ring by accident, although footage from the circling ESPN blimp strongly suggested otherwise and, at the time, refused to say why he had done so; it was later revealed that his stunt was a personal protest against violence. Whatever his motivation, the ‘Fan Man’ incident was selected as Event of the Year by American boxing magazine ‘The Ring’.

Sadly, deeply indebted as a result of medical bills resulting from coronary artery disease, with which he was diagnosed in 2001, Miller disappeared from his home in Alaska in September, 2002. His body was found, six months later, by bear hunters on the remote Resurrection Pass Trail, on the Kenai Peninsula, just south of Anchorage, where he had committed suicide.

Dettori’s Magnificent Seven

On Saturday, September 28, 1996, reigning champion jockey Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori arrived at Ascot Racecourse for the Festival of British Racing – a forerunner of what is now British Champions’ Day – with a full book of seven rides. Two, three or possibly four of them held realistic chances of winning but, at the start of the day, no-one – or, at least, hardly anyone – could have predicted that Dettori would achieve the nigh on impossible feat of partnering all seven winners on the card.

Dettori opened his account on Wall Street, trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, on behalf of Goldolphin, his principal employer, in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. Further success in the royal-blue silks of Godolphin followed on Diffident, who scraped home by a short head, in the Diamed Stakes, Mark Of Esteem in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and, later in the afternoon, Fatefully in the Roseberry Rated Stakes.

In between times, Dettori partnered Decorated Hero, trained by John Gosden, to an easy victory in the Tote Festival Handicap, causing BBC television to extend its coverage until just a time that Dettori was beaten. BBC producers were not to be disappointed because Dettori extended his winning sequence to six when making all the running to win the Blue Seal Stakes on Lochangel, trained by Andrew Balding. By that stage, the popular Italian jockey had already equalled the record held by Sir Gordon Richards and Alec Russell by winning six consecutive races on the same card but, with one race left, still had the chance to complete an unprecedented seven-timer.

Coincidentally, his remaining mount, Fujiyama Crest, had won the closing Gordon Carter Handicap on the same card the previous year but, having failed to add to his winning tally – including when finishing tailed off in the Northumberland Plate on his previous outing – was available at 12/1 on the morning of the race. Nevertheless, in the face of unprecedented liabilities, Fujiyama Crest started 2/1 favourite and, as he had done the previous year, made all the running to land the spoils. What henceforth became known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ landed odds in excess of 25,000/1 at starting price and in excess of 235,000/1 at the best odds available.

Aly Dia

Aly, or Ali, Dia is a Senegalese former professional footballer who, in November, 1996, was at the centre of the most famous hoax in the history of the Premier League. On the recommendation of someone purporting to be FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah, Dia, 31, was signed, on a one-month deal, by Southampton manager Graeme Souness. At the time, Souness reportedly said, ‘He’s played with George Weah at Paris Saint-Germain, and last year he was playing in the second division in Germany.’

In any event, injuries limited Southampton to just two fit first-team strikers, Egil Ostenstad and Matt Le Tissier, for their home fixture against Leeds United on November 23, such that Dia was named as a substitute after just a single training session. Le Tissier was forced off with a thigh injury after just half and hour and Dia replaced him, to make his Premier League debut. It would, in fact, be his one and only Premier League appearance because he was, as Le Tissier put it, ‘f***ing hopeless’. After 85 minutes, with Southampton trailing 1-0, Souness cut his losses and replaced Dia with defender Ken Monkou.

It was really no surprise that Dia proved unworthy of top flight football because, unbeknown to Souness, prior to signing for Southampton he had been playing not in 2. Bundesliga, but in the Northern Premier League for Blyth Spartans. ‘George Weah’ had apparently recommended Dia to several other clubs, including Third Division Gillingham, whose manager Tony Pulis said later, ‘…we gave the lad a trial and he was rubbish’. Ultimately, Dia lasted just two weeks at Southampton – although he did earn £2,000 a week – before returning to non-league football with Gateshead in the Conference Premier.