Remembering Shergar

The Shergar Cup is held at Ascot each year, named after one of racing’s greats, who was much loved and famously lost.

Shergar’s name is etched in racing folklore as much for his headline-grabbing demise as for his exceptional performances on the racecourse, the most scintillating of those being his record-breaking victory in the 1981 Derby.

Famously kidnapped by the IRA following his retirement to stud, the Aga Khan’s colt was one of the finest Derby winners of the 20th century and without argument the best racehorse of his generation with a lofty Timeform rating of 140.

Trained by Michael Stoute in Newmarket, Shergar won impressively on his first start as a two-year-old before finishing second to the more experienced Beldale Flutter on his only other outing in what is now the Racing Post Trophy.

Having been rated 31st among his peers in the 1980 European Free Handicap, Shergar commenced his Classic season as a 33/1 ante-post chance for the Derby. Those odds tumbled after a 10-length victory in Sandown’s Classic Trial was followed by a 12-length demolition in the Chester Vase.

Shergar lined up at Epsom as the 10/11 favourite for Derby glory. He did not disappoint his supporters as he once again accelerated away from inferior rivals to register a stunning 10-length success– the widest winning margin in the long history of the race.

With the Epsom Classic in the bag, Shergar went to the Curragh and added the Irish Derby by four lengths before routing his elders by the same distance in Britain’s premier all-age middle-distance contest, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

The stage was set for an autumn hurrah in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp but in an unexpected twist, connections decided to take in the St Leger at Doncaster. The extended mile and three quarters of the world’s oldest classic race proved beyond Shergar’s stamina reserves and he could fare no better than fourth.

That defeat was to be Shergar’s final race. Valued at £10 million, the colt retired to the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud in Ireland but on 8th February, 1983, hooded gunmen seized the stallion. A £2-million ransom was demanded and refused. Shergar’s fate remains a mystery.

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