1913: The Forgotten Epsom Derby Winner

Hiya guys!

Today’s post is another part of my Horse Racing History series. It is a little bit of a shorter story but one I found interesting and wanted to share.

On the 4th of June 1913, it was the 134th running of the Epsom Derby. And in a massive twist of events, Aboyeur won at 100/1 for jockey Edwin Piper and trainer Alan Cunliffe. However his win was very much overshadowed by other events that happened at Epsom on that day.

The race is now regarded as one of the world’s most famous horse races of all time, but it isn’t for the performance of the horses on the track. Let’s jump straight into why this 1913 Derby is so highly remembered.

The day starting off pretty normally with no major issues. When the Derby started – again no major issues, until there was an interference. Craganour, ridden by Johnny Reiff, hung left bumping into Aboyeur who then veered towards the railing and by doing so badly hampered Shogun, Louvois and Day Comet. Aboyeur’s jockey Edwin Piper then struck him with his whip in his left hand, which caused him to hang sharply back into the centre of the track again colliding with Craganour and attempting to bite him.

Into the final furlong Reiff had his whip in his right hand and Piper had his whip in his left hand which lead to the horses continuously bumping into each other, eventually Craganour crossed the line first just ahead of Aboyeur.

After a brief pause, Mr Robinson, the judge for the race announced the result stating that Craganour was first with Aboyeur second and Louvois third, controversially missing Day Comet who was on the inside who had been obscured by the other runners. However the result was not made official until the Stewards announced they were happy with the race and everything was okay.

After a short delay, as expected, the result was withdrawn. It was announced that an official objection had been made against the winner, however not by a rival jockey, but by the Stewards themselves. Which led to a very lengthy Stewards enquiry.

Finally, after interviewing the jockeys and the judge, the Stewards disqualified Craganour on the grounds that he had failed to keep a straight course and therefore ‘jostled’, ‘bumped and bored’ and ‘interfered’ with other runners. Therefore it was announced that Aboyeur would be awarded the race, winning at 100/1.

Even though the race itself was full of drama during and after, that was not the reason that the race was remembered, it was something far more sinister. It was due to the death of suffragette Emily Davison.

So, who was Emily Davison? Born on the October 11th 1872, Emily Wilding Davison was an English suffragette who fought for women’s rights to vote. Before this incident she had been arrested on nine occasions, went on hunger strike seven times and was force fed on forty nine occasions. She grew up in a middle-class family and studied at the Royal Holloway College in London and the St Hugh’s College in Oxford before becoming a teacher and governess. In 1906 aged 34 she joined the Woman’s Social and Political Union also known as the WSPU and pretty soon she became an officer of the organisation and a chief steward during marches. She was known within the organisation for her daring militant action, with her tactics including breaking windows, throwing stones, setting fire to postboxes and on three occasions, hiding overnight in the Palace of Westminster.

So, why did her death cause the Derby to be overshadowed? Well, that’s because her death was directly caused by the race, at the race course, by a horse in the race.

Emily Davison was stood at the Tattenham Corner, the bend before the home straight. Some horses passed her and at this point she ducked under the guard rail and ran onto the course. She reached up and grabbed the reins of Anmer – King George V’s horse who was being ridden by Herbert Jones. She was hit by the horse who would have been travelling at around 35mph within four seconds of her stepping onto the track. Anmer fell during this collision and rolled over his jockey who’s foot had got caught in the stirrup. Emily was knocked to the ground and reportedly kicked in the head, however a surgeon who later operated on her said that:

I could find no trace of her having been kicked by a horse.”

The whole event was captured by three news cameras, being broadcast to thousands as well as an estimated 500,000 people in attendance including the King and Queen. It is still unclear to this day as to what her purpose in attending the Derby and walking onto the course was, she had not discussed her plan with anyone or left a note. However several theories have been raised, these include, she was intending to cross the track and believed all of the hoses had passed or she wanted to simply pull the King’s horse down or she was trying to attach a WSPU flag to a horse or that she just intended to throw herself in front of a horse.

Bystanders rushed onto the track and attempted to help jockey Herbert Jones as well as Emily Davison and they were both taken to the Epsom Cottage Hospital. Whilst in hospital she received a large amount of hate mail from the thousands who had witnessed the whole event either in person or via the news.

Two days later on the June 6th she was operated on in hospital however she never regained consciousness and subsequently, four days later on June 8th at just 40 years old Emily’s injuries proved fatal as she died in hospital.

The only belongings found with Davison were two suffragette flags, the return stub of her railway ticket to London, her race card, a ticket to a suffragette dance later that evening and a diary with appointments for the following week. These belongings alone suggest that whatever her intentions were on this day, she did not plan on her life being ended.

As I previously mentioned, King George V and Queen Mary were both present at the race and it was in fact the King’s horse that Emily grabbed onto. They both enquired about the health of both Emily and Herbert whilst they were in hospital. As we know, Emily died, however Herbert luckily got away with mild concussion and other minor injuries, he spent one night in hospital before returning home on June 5th. He later said he could only recall a very small part of the event stating:

She seemed to clutch at my horse and I felt it strike her.”

Luckily he recovered pretty quickly and was able to ride Anmer at Ascot two weeks later. Anmer luckily remained uninjured in the whole event.

Interestingly, the King and Queen also both had opinions of the event that they recorded in their own personal journals. With the King stating it was:

A most regrettable and scandalous proceeding.”

With the Queen simply stating that Emily Davison was a:

Horrid woman.”

On June 10th there was an inquest held into Emily Davison’s death, Herbert Jones was not in attendance due to his health not permitting him to be fit enough to do so. Many spoke at the inquest including Captain Henry Davison – Emily’s half brother. The coroner said that in the absence of any evidence to prove so, Emily Davison did not commit suicide, instead the final verdict of the inquest was read as follows:

Miss Emily Wilding Davison died of a fracture of the base of the skull, caused by being accidentally knocked down by a horse through wilfully rushing on to the racecourse on Epsom Downs during the progress of the race for the Derby; death was due to misadventure.”

On June 14th Davison’s body was taken from Epsom to London where a service was held at St George’s in Bloomsbury, before being taken by train to Newcastle upon Tyne to the St Mary the Virgin church for her funeral which was watched by thousands.

This race is now known as the world’s most famous horse race due to the death of Emily Davison and not for the very controversial events in the race that day. Aboyeur, the eventual winner won at 100/1 which is something pretty special, but unfortunately his win is completely forgotten.

Personally, I have read so many articles about Emily and this day in particular and I have no idea why she did what she did. Of course, any life lost is horrible, but I don’t think people really ever looked into why. For an inquest to come back with a verdict of ‘misadventure’ I think is a little disappointing. I think if this had happened in today’s world, they would have had psychiatrists speak up about the event and potentially understand why or how this was allowed to happen. Aside from that, I do think it’s a real shame that Aboyeur managed to win at 100/1 in what sounds like a very action packed race but this was all overlooked.

I do just want to add that if you choose to do your own research into this story please please be careful as there are pictures and videos of the incident, they are really poor quality, however this may still be distressing for some.

I found this such an interesting story to research as it is one I have never heard of, so I hope you all enjoyed. See you all very very soon!

What Happened to Shergar?

Shergar Correct

Welcome to the second post in my new Horse Racing History series!

I am someone who very much enjoys researching into the past. History has always been a passion of mine, so I decided to combine horse racing with history and this series will be a bunch of historical, interesting horse racing stories. I hope you enjoy!

I feel like everybody has heard of Shergar within the racing world, but I couldn’t do a historical horse racing series without including, probably, the most well known historical story within the sport.

Shergar was born in March 3rd 1978, he was an Irish bred, British trained racehorse. The Aga Khan – Shergar’s owner – sent him to Michael Stoute – now Sir Michael Stoute after being knighted in 1998, although not for his service to horse racing but instead for his services to tourism in Barbados where he was born – for training in Britain in 1979 and 1980.

On September 19th 1980 Shergar ran his first race in the Kris Plate at Newbury with Lester Piggott on-board. The race was a two year old colts and geldings race over 1 mile. Shergar went into the race as the favourite at a short price of 11/8 in a field of 23. He ended up winning on debut by 2 and 1/2 lengths.

His second and final race that year was on October 25th in the 1 mile William Hill Futurity Stakes run at Doncaster. Lester Piggott again took the ride, with Shergar’s starting price being 5/2 in a small field of seven, but a much more experienced field at that. Shergar finished second in this race, this time losing by 2 and 1/2 lenghts. After this race Shergar was then priced up at 25/1 to win the following 1981 Epsom Derby.

On April 25th 1981 Shergar returned to the track running in the Guardian Newspaper Classic Trial at Sandown, this time with Walter Swinburn riding. He went on to win triumphantly by 10 lengths. After this impressive win Shergar’s odds for the Epsom Derby shortened dramatically to 8/1.

(Sir) Michael Stoute then decided that Shergar needed more practice on a left handed course, so he selected the Chester Vase on May 5th, of course, held at Chester. He went on to win, once again, this time by 12 lengths.

 On June 3rd 1981 he ran in the much anticipated Epsom Derby held at Epsom Downs Racecourse. Set over 1 and 1/2 miles, the Derby is a Group 1 flat race which is open to three year old colts and fillies. Shergar went into the Epsom Derby as the 10/11 favourite with Walter Swinburn taking the ride. On the final turn of the course Shergar opened up a massive leader over his rival. With commentator Peter Bromley famously saying “there’s only one horse in it – you need a telescope to see the rest.” With such a lead Swinburn eased up a little, with Shergar winning the Epsom Derby by 10 lengths, which is the biggest winning margin in the races history.

After his impressive win, the Aga Khan was offered $40 million to syndicate Shergar, which he refused. He instead decided to set up his own syndicate selling 40 shares at £250,000 – valuing him at £10 million, which at the time was a record for a race horse. He retained six shares for himself remaining the biggest shareholder then sold the other 34 individually to buyers from nine countries.

On June 15th there was a bit of a scare when Shergar was on the gallops where he threw off his rider and ran through a hedge and onto a road where he trotted into a local village. He was spotted by locals who followed him and once he came to a stop they led him back to the stables. Luckily Shergar was not harmed in the incident which Stoute later said was “very lucky” as there was a crossing right by where he got out.

Just three weeks after impressively winning the Epsom Derby Shergar went over to the Curragh in Ireland where on June 27th he rode in the Irish Derby with Lester Piggott back riding him, where he won by four lengths. After this race Lester Piggott went on to tell people he was the best horse he had ever ridden.

On July 25th Shergar then went to Ascot where he rode in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes where he went on to win by four lengths. After this (Sir) Michael Stoute and the Aga Khan considered entering him into the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe however decided he needed one more race to prepare.

Stoute and the Aga Khan decided to enter him into the St Leger Stakes at Doncaster taking place on September 12th – little did they know at the time that this would be his final race. Ten days before the race on September 2nd, a news article by Sporting Life was published saying Shergar had no been training well. All of which Stoute claimed were rumours that were untrue. The ground was soft at Doncaster which was ground Shergar did not like. When Swinburn tried to get him to accelerate, he simply did not respond. He ended up finishing fourth.

The dramatic change in Shergar surprised Stoute and the Aga Khan who decided to run a number of tests on him. Every test came back saying he was in perfectly good health and Stoute said how he worked well in training after this race. However, unwilling to risk the horse without a real reason as to what actually happened at the St. Leger, they decided not to enter him into the Arc. Instead, the Aga Khan decided to retire him, sending him to Ballymany Stud near the Curragh. The Aga Khan later told journalists that:

‘He had run so uncharacteristically in the St. Leger, we knew something had gone wrong, but we didn’t know what it was, so it was an easy decision to retire him.’

The Aga Khan was offered large amounts of money to put Shergar to stud in America, however he wanted him to go to Ballymany Stud, so in October 1981 Shergar arrived in Ireland and was paraded down the main street of Newbridge, County Kldare. At the time newspapers reported that Shergar was a:

‘National hero in Ireland, one of the most recognisable sports personalities – horse or human – in Ireland.’

In 1982 Shergar had a pretty successful breeding season, covering 44 mares of which 36 foles were produced. 17 colts and 19 fillies. Out of these three won Group races, the most successful being Authaal who was sold for 325,000 Guineas when sold as a weanling before being sold on just one year later for 3.1 million Guineas. He went on to win the 1986 Irish St. Leger. It was later said by representatives of Ballymany that:

‘Perhaps not a disappointing first crop, but certainly below expectations for a horse with Shergar’s racing prowess.’

In early February 1983 Shergar’s second stud season was about to begin. He was in extremely high demand and already had a book full of 55 mares to cover, expecting to earl £1 million for the season. However, on February 8th 1983, something terrible happened.

On February 8th 1983 at around 8:30pm three men who were all armed and wearing masks entered the home of Jim Fitzgerald – the head groom at Ballymany. They were a part of a group of at least six men but possibly up to nine. One of the men said to Fitzgerald:

‘We have come for Shergar. We want £2 million for him’.

Fitzgerald told police that the men were not rough with him or his family, there was one who carried a pistol who was very aggressive, but the others, not so much. His family were locked in a room and at gunpoint Jim Fitzgerald was taken out to Shergar’s stable and ordered to put him in the back of a stolen horsebox.

Shergar was then driven away in the horsebox – never to be seen again. Fitzgerald was then told to lie on the floor of a van where the men covered his face with a coat. He was then driven around aimlessly for four hours before being released near the village of Kilcock, which was 20 miles away from Ballymany. He was told he couldn’t ring the Gardaí (Irish Police) or he and his family would be killed. He instead had to wait for the gang to contact him. He was told the gang would use the code phrase ‘King Neptune’ to identify themselves by when they rang. Fitzgerald recalled that one of the men had a Northern Irish accent and another seemed to have experience with horses, however they never told him they were from the IRA nor did they give any other indication of who they were.

Fitzgerald was released and walked on to the village where he called his brother to come and pick him up. He arrived back at Ballymany where he rang Ghislain Drion who was the Aga Khan’s stud manager at the time. He informed him of the theft and urged him not to call the police as he was scared of the threats made to his family.

This is where it gets a little complicated, so please try and follow the trail as best as possible. At this point Drion attempted to reach the Aga Khan who was in Switzerland, before ringing Stan Cosgrove who was Shergar’s vet, who was also a shareholder. Cosgrove then contacted Sean Berry who was a retired Irish Army captain and the manager of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Berry then contacted Alan Dukes who was a friend of his who was also the serving Minister for Finance. Dukes then suggested speaking to Michael Noonan, the Minister for Justice. Noonan and Dukes both told him to call the Gardaí. Eventually by 4am Drion had managed to contact the Aga Khan who told him to ring the Gardaí immediately. It was only then, eight hours later, that they made the call to the Gardaí and at this point, any possible trail they had, had already gone cold.

At this point I just want to throw in an opinion, why did it take 8 hours going from person to person to person to actually make the decision to call the Gardaí? I just think it’s a little weird and a whole lot of confusion. Anyway – back to the timeline.

Before Fitzgerald was even back at Ballymany and before he could even tell anyone what had happened, the first call from the thieves took place. The call was to Jeremy Maxwell who was a horse trainer based in Northern Ireland. They demanded £40,000 and later raised it to £52,000, he was told that the negotiations would only be held with three British horse racing journalists. Derek Thompson and John Oaksey from ITV and Peter Campling from The Sun. They were told to be at the Europa Hotel in central Belfast, this hotel was known as the most bombed hotel during the Northen Ireland Conflict.

The three men arrived at the Europa as instructed and were then contacted via phone and told to go back to Maxwell’s house to await further instructions. At this point the Gardaí instructed the three men that they had to keep the thieves talking for as long as possible when they rang so they could trace the call. The first call took place, Thompson tried to keep them talking, however they cut off after 80 seconds, which was not enough time for the call to be traced. Throughout the night there were a series of calls then at around 1:30am Thompson managed to keep the caller talking for over 90 seconds, which was long enough to trace the call. However the person that was doing the call intercepts had finished his shift at midnight and gone home – an opportunity missed.

On February 9th, the thieves opened up a second line of negotiation, directly contacting Ballymany Stud and speaking to Drion. The call took place at 4:05pm and was very short as Drion was not a fluent speaker of English and struggled to understand the Irish accent of the caller. The caller also had issues with Drion’s heavy French ponunciation. Around 90 minute later, they called again. This time Drion asked him to speak slowly. They demanded £2 million for the return of Shergar as well as a contact number in France where further negotiations could be made. Drion provided them with the number for the Aga Khan’s French office.

At this point, Shergar’s owners brought in Control Risks, a risk and strategic consulting firm who were to handle the negotiations from the Paris office. 

On Friday February 11th, the negotiators demanded proof that Shergar was still alive, as many, including the press, had speculated that Shergar was no in fact dead. The thieves said that a representative should go to the Crofton Hotel in Dublin and ask for a message for ‘Johnny Logan’ who was an Irish singer. Stan Cosgrove, Shergar’s vet, went to the hotel and did as instructed. With him were armed members of a Special Detective Unit who were undercover. However no messages had been delivered so Cosgrove returned home. Not long after, the negotiators received another call, they were furious at the presence of the police and threatened that if any member of their gang were captured or killed that the negotiators and the police would be murdered in retribution.

On Saturday February 12th the thieves contacted the negotiators and said that the proof had been left at the Rosnaree Hotel. This was collected and it contained several polaroid close up pictures showing a horse. Some of which were pictured next to a copy of the Irish News dated February 11th. Cosgrove was seen these and he confirmed it:

‘Definitely was him.’

Although, he did say that:

‘It wasn’t proof that the horse was alive, at this point, you’d want to get much more definite evidence. If you’d have seen the complete horse it would have been different, but this was just the head.’

On that same day at around 10:40pm the thieves called the negotiators again where it was explained that the syndicate were not satisfied with the pictures as this was not enough proof that Shergar was still alive. The caller simply replied ‘if you’re not satisfied, that’s it’ and ended the call. No further contact was ever made. The syndicate attempted to re-establish contact, but there was simply no response to any request to do so.

Onto why the Aga Khan wouldn’t pay the ransom money, even though he was worth a ton of money. Well, there were several reasons. The first being that he was only one of 35 members of the syndicate, meaning he could not negotiate or pay on behalf of the others. Secondly, he was unsure whether Shergar would be returned even if they money was paid. And thirdly, he was concerned that if the kidnappers demands were met, it would make every high-value horse in Ireland a target for future thefts.

The shareholders were also totally divided on what they should do. Brian Sweeney, who was a veteran of the American Horse Racing Industry said:

‘If you ask a mother who has had a child that has been kidnapped if a ransom should be paid, I think the answer would be ‘yes and quickly’.

However, another shareholder Lord Derby disagreed with this, saying

‘If ransom money is paid for this horse then there is a danger of other horses being kidnapped in the years to come and that simply cannot be tolerated.’

So all in all, everybody was totally torn on what they should be doing in this situation.

The syndicate had a committee who later put together a full report for the rest of the members. This report examined the motives behind the theft of their most precious horse. The report concluded that the theft was either undertaken to ‘create confusion and publicity’ rather than obtaining money. Or that the negotiations were ‘undertaken with naivety’. They concluded this after taking a number of factors into account. Including the fact that many of the demands were actually impossible. For example, they demanded the ransom be paid in £100 notes, which simply did not exist. Another example being in one call which took place at 5:45pm to Drion in Ballymany, he was told to deliver £2 million to Paris by noon the following day, then a call at 5pm to the Paris negotiators, they were told to get the £2 million by the end of the night, both after the banks had closed. In another call, the negotiators in Paris was told to get an agreement for the ransom to be paid but they couldn’t contact anyone in Ireland, even though some of the shareholders were in Ireland. The report also concluded that it became very clear that over the few days whilst negotiations were taking place that the gang had thought that the Aga Khan was the sole owner of Shergar, they actually had no knowledge that there were shareholders and they also did not take into account how difficult it would be liaising and organising all 35 shareholders into a position of agreement.

Now lets look at the police investigation into the theft. As expected, the investigation was immediately hindered as they only found out about the crime taking place 8 hours after it had happened. It also didn’t help that there was a local Thoroughbred auction taking place at the time meaning several horseboxes were in the area at the time. 

Chief Superintendent James Murphy took the lead in this investigation, he was a highly experienced detective. Interestingly, in his first press conference he told reported:

‘I have no leads’.

However this was a lie, he in fact had kept a lot of information from the media, including the fact that the police had found a magazine for a Steyr MPi 69 submachine gun, which suggested to them immediately that there was a link to the IRA active service unit in South Armagh. After a lot of comedic references being made, he was replaced as the public figure of the investigation, meaning he no longer attended press conferences, even though he continued to lead it behind the scenes. We can only assume this step was taken to prevent the media getting carried away with comedic references rather than focusing on the fact a multi million pound horse had in fact been stolen.

On February 16th the police released a description of the horsebox used by the thieves from what Fitzgerald had said. It was either light green or light blue with no working lights and no licence plates. There was a huge police search in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland of potential hiding places for Shergar, however no trace of him or the horsebox were found. At one point, up to 70 detectives were working on the case at one point, which is a huge amount. After two weeks of no new leads, no contact from the thieves and no new evidence, the police search was scaled down, although the investigation has always continued.

As you can imagine, with a story this big and the police limiting what they released to the public, the media had a field day in speculating what had happened to Shergar. Including a claim that Shergar had been stolen by Colonel Gaddaf as part of a deal to supply arms to the IRA, another claim by the Sunday Sport newspaper was that Shergar had been spotted being ridden by the missing Lord Lucan, another was that a Middle Eastern horse breeder had stolen him for stud as well as, in my opinion, the craziest one, that the Mafia had taken him to punish the Aga Khan over a previous sale of a horse which had gone badly. 

After eight weeks, with still no real information, a senior detective approached Stan Cosgrove and introduced him to Dennis Minogue who was a horse trainer who claimed to have a contact within the IRA who had shown him a photograph of Shergar. He said that he could help get Shergar released for a random of £80,000. Cosgrove was asked by the detectives to assist them in a sting operation to try and lure the thieves out, to which he agreed. So on July 20th 1983 Detective Martin Kenirons assisted the operation. He put the money in the boot of his car in a remote village, which Minogue was to collect after the horse had been released. However, the following day Kenirons returned to his car to find the boot had been forced open, the money was missing and Minogue was also missing. The money was never recovered. Kenirons was then dismissed from the force for breaching regulations. However in 2018 he again reiterated his innocent saying ‘when it all went wrong, everyone jumped for the high ground. They (senior officers) all denied that they had anything to do with the ransom.’

To this day, the police and intelligence sources consider the IRA as the most likely suspects behind Shergar’s disappearance and supposed death. In 1981, according to intelligence which was received by intelligence sources, due to the success of previous operations including kidnapping human beings, it was decided by the IRA that they were to undertake another ransom through kidnapping or theft. This time focusing in on Shergar.

More potential evidence to back up this theory is that in 1999 Sean O’Callaghan who was a former member of the IRA who had been working within the organisation as a ‘supergrass’ for the police since 1980 published an autobiography. In his autobiography he stated that the plot to steal Shergar was thought of and planned by Kevin Malon who was a leading IRA member at the time, he reportedly came up with the idea whilst serving time in prison. He went on to say that two weeks after Shergar’s disappearance Gerry Fitzgerald, another IRA member told him that he had been involved in the theft and that Shergar had actually been killed very early on in the process. He panicked and nobody involved could cope with him, in a panic Shergar damaged it’s leg and the decision was made to kill him. O’Callaghan states that:

‘Shergar was killed within days’.

In 2004 he appeared on TV, again stating that Gerry Fitzgerald ‘strongly suggested that Shergar had been killed within hours of his kidnap’. Saying the IRA then kept up a deception that he was still alive and in their care.

Based off the information O’Callaghan gave, Irish journalist Kevin O’Connor identified that there were potentially three parts of the gang. One part were to undertake high-profile activity in Belfast to focus media attention in the North, one discreetly negotiating with the Aga Khan and the third part were to guard the horse.

O’Callaghan has also said that when they failed to get the ransom money for Shergar, they went on to kidnap a businessman called Galen Weston. The police found out and took over Weston’s house whilst he was visiting the UK. After a lengthy gun battle Gerry Fitzgerald and four others were arrested. They all received very long prison sentences. O’Callaghan stated that:

‘Essentially the same team that went to kidnap Shergar went to kidnap Galen Weston’.

However, to this day no arrests have ever been made in relation to Shergar’s death and nor have the IRA ever admitted any role in the theft and all of those named by O’Callaghan have denied any involvement. It’s important to note that many do not believe O’Callaghan’s version of events. A journalist has stated:

‘A confessed informer whose life depended on his ability to weave a convincing web of lies. Without more evidence, O’Callaghan’s story is just that… an interesting story.’

Something else I want to mention is that in 2008, The Sunday Telegraph did a special investigation and they allegedly obtained information from a different IRA member who said that O’Callaghan had not been told the full story, saying that:

‘The gang was so embarrassed by what happened.’

According to the unnamed source, a vet that the IRA had arranged to look after Shergar did not turn up because his wife had threatened to leave him if he did. He also goes on to say that when the IRA realised that the Aga Khan was not going to pay, the Army Council ordered for Shergar to be released. However due to the extensive searches by the police, they couldn’t release him. They also thought they were under close surveillance and that it was just too risky to release him, so therefore he was ordered to be killed. The unnamed source went on to tell the newspaper that two men went into the stable where Shergar was being held, one of them carrying a machine gun. He said:

‘Shergar was machine gunned to death. There was blood everywhere and the horse even slipped on his own blood. There was lots of cussin’ and swearin’ because the horse wouldn’t die. It was a very bloody death.’

So, if the sources are correct and the IRA did have some sort of involvement with Shergar’s disappearance and death, where are his remains? His body has never been recovered or identified, however according to several sources, including O’Callaghan, The Sunday Telegraph and The Observer, it is highly likely that his body was buried near Aughnasheelin near Ballinamore, County Leitrim. O’Callaghan has said that as far as he knew the remains were buried on a farm of an IRA veteran from the 1940’s and it would be difficult to get permission to dig on the land.

I think it’s important to note that there have been several claims of equine skeletons being Shergar’s. However equine pathologist Des Leadon has assisted the police in those claims, all of which were proven not to be Shergar. He has retained some strands of hair from Shergar’s mane and tail which he has said contain sufficient DNA to confirm or deny an identification.

I also want to mention the fact that Shergar was, of course, insured through several insurance companies. Hodgson McCreedy covered £3,625,000 of the total and had a theft clause within their policy. Other shareholders who were accountable for £1.5 million worth of shares had insurance that did not include a theft clause. Shareholders who owned £3 million worth of shares did not take out insurance, including the Aga Khan. Cosgrove (Shergar’s vet and shareholder) had an insurance police that was ‘mortality only’ with Norwich Union (now part of Aviva), who refused to pay, even when it became clear that Shergar was most probably dead. Also worth a mention that in June 1983, after legal advice was taken, the 20 policies that included a theft clause were all settled in full.

Oh boy that was a long one! If you’re still here, then hi, congrats, you reached the end! I just want to finish up with a few of my opinions on the whole situation and I would love it if you stuck around a little longer to give them a read and then sent over your opinions via Twitter, I’d love to hear them!

Personally I find it a little strange if I’m honest. Why did it take 8 hours and so many random calls before they notified the police? They lost a lot of precious time whilst they were messing around. In those 8 hours they could’ve taken the horse anywhere in the country or even to a different country before the alarm was even raised. I think it definitely sounds like an organised crime group, the fact they had researched enough to know a local auction was taking place and this would be a perfect time to strike tells me it wasn’t just a ‘lets steal a horse on a whim’ kind of thing. However, controversial maybe, but I don’t know if I quite believe it was the IRA. I mean, surely an organised group like them would’ve done more research into Shergar and known that there wasn’t just one owner and he now had multiple? I feel like an organisation like the IRA would’ve had so many different people with different expertise that this is something they would or should have picked up on beforehand? 

Overall I just find it a heartbreaking story, not for anyone other than Shergar to be honest. I can’t imagine just how scared he must have been surrounded by strangers, no idea where he was or who he was with. That thought just breaks my heart. I would love to think he was released and lived a happy life with a family who had no idea who he was, that’s what my heart wants to believe. But in reality, I just hope he had a quick and painless death because inevitably, death is probably what happened to him.

I feel like I had to cover this story even though everybody probably already knows it, but it wouldn’t be a Horse Racing History series without including the biggest story of them all. If you didn’t know it, I hope you understand it now and if you did know it, I hope you found out something you may not have known before!

Thank you for reading!

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Sidenote: My raffle to raise money for the Stroke Association ends THIS WEEK! So you can pop over to my Twitter and view this tweet for all information: https://twitter.com/zoelouisesmithx/status/1277629857460113410?s=20 There are some fantastic prizes and it is for a fantastic cause in honour of the 10 year anniversary of my mom’s stroke. The Stroke Association help not only those directly affected by a stroke, but also their families. They helped my mom massively and I wanted to raise money for them so they can continue to help other people in need. I hope you can all join me in raising money for this incredible cause!

An Interview with Phillip Dennis

Phillip Dennis

Hiya guys!

Today I am bringing you an interview with Phillip Dennis, I hope you enjoy!

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Me: What is your favourite race of your career, win or lose?

Phillip: My favourite race that I have won so far would have to be the Epsom Dash on Ornate. To win a big handicap just 40 minutes before the Derby was great and a real buzz, he also gave me my first Group One ride in the Nunthorpe this year, which would be up there for a favourite ride that didn’t win. Hopefully he can be seriously competitive in listed or group company this season.

Me: If you could ride any horse that you never have, past or present, what horse would you choose?

Phillip: If I could have ridden any horse past or present, I’d have to say Frankel as an obvious one. He was just a freak of a race horse and his Guineas win and York win stand out for me. A less obvious one would be Sole Power, he looked a real character to ride.

Me: What are your opinions surrounding the discussions of banning the whip?

Phillip: I think the whip issue could go on and on but it really is an important piece of equipment that the wider public don’t really understand. I’m not sure what the best way to go is, whether it’s tighten up penalties or reduce hits, but in my opinion, banning it would be crazy.

Me: As a jockey, weight is obviously a huge thing for you guys, so what would you eat on a regular day? Are there any periods across the year where you can actually just eat everything and anything or is it a strict kind of diet all year round?

Phillip: I’m fairly lucky with my weight that it stays quite level and I can eat relatively well, depending on what weights I have in the coming days. 48 hour declarations are definitely a help to get the weight sorted for a lighter ride. In the summer I’d watch it a bit more than in the winter. When it’s quieter you can use it as a bit of a break for the body.

Me: What would you say to anyone who thinks racing is animal cruelty?

Phillip: If I was to talk to someone who thought racing was cruel, I’d have to explain to them how well the horses are looked after, morning and night. People think they are forced to run, but the majority are only happy when they are out with a saddle on them. Stable staff do an unbelievable job and treat them like they are their own.

Me: Racing is an all year round sport, so when you do get some down time, what do you like to do?

Phillip: During the odd days I get off I try to play golf… very averagely. But I’d be a fair weather player. So other than that I like to spend time with friends and family. During the lockdown I tried my hand at the odd bit of DIY and gardening.

Me: Who do you look up to in the dressing room?

Phillip: In the North, it’s a great bunch of jockeys, as people and riders, so it would be hard to single one person out that I look up to, but any advice I can get off the more senior riders is a massive help and I like to get as much as possible.

Me:What is one race you’d love to win?

Phillip: The obvious races I’d love to win would be the classics, like any jockey. But on a more personal level, I’d love to win the Nunthorpe, being my local track and I love sprinters. Another one would be the Ayr Gold Cup. My dad used to take me and my mate up every year to watch it with him, so that one would be up there. When I was young it was always the Grand National, but not sure I’d be brave enough now, unless it was an old school master.

Me: What’s your overall goal in racing over the upcoming few years?

Phillip: In the coming season or two I’d like to keep building on numbers and also the quality of horses. Last year I got to 47 with a few nicer ones in there, so to keep riding in them sort of races would be great and to get above 50 would be nice.

Me: What would be your ‘horse to watch’ for the next season or two?

Phillip: A horse to watch would be Que Amoro, a filly I won on for Michael Dods in the apprentice race at the Ebor Festival. She’s a seriously fast filly that stays the 5 furlongs strongly and on fast ground I think she’d be able to go up a level into a listed / group 3 company for them.

Me: What is your favourite race course to ride at and why?

Phillip: York would have to be my favourite track, it’s my local, has the best racing in the North and arguably, the country. Always has a great crowd and the atmosphere is unbelievable.

Me: What is your best advice for young people who have a passion they want to follow, whether that be racing or something else?

Phillip: My advice to any young person would be hard work can always beat talent, so as long as you want something, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t or aren’t good enough. Just make sure you work as hard as you can and harder than anyone else and you’ll get to where you want to be.

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Firstly a massive thank you to Phillip for taking the time out to speak with me. From speaking to him I think he is someone who wants to learn and continuously improve in the sport and that is a great attitude to have and he will definitely be successful with that thought process. 

I hope you enjoyed and I will see you all next Saturday for An Interview with Tom Garner.

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An Interview with Donnacha O’Brien

Donnacha (1)

Heya guys!

Today’s post is another ridiculously exciting one, an interview with Donnacha O’Brien. Donnacha has only recently retired from the saddle at 21 years old as the Irish Champion Jockey and now he has followed in his father and brother’s footsteps and taken up training. I was lucky enough to grab a few precious moments during Donnach’s very busy morning to interview him, I really hope you enjoy!

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Me: You obviously won some incredible races as a young jockey, what is the big goal now as a trainer? What is one race that you would love to win?

Donnacha: The Epsom Derby is the pinnacle of flat racing, so long term that would be a goal. I don’t want to set any short term goals really as I’m still just figuring things out.

Me: You were riding, arguably, the best you ever had when you decided to retire from the saddle, how hard of a decision was that? What pushed you to finally decide now was the time?

Donnacha: It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but there was never going to be a good time to make that call. I am happy with the decision I made and I am looking forward to next season as a trainer.

Me: What are your opinions surrounding the discussions of banning the whip?

Donnacha: The whip is a very well designed device that helps get the most out of the horses without hurting them. I know myself from getting hit by other riders in the heat of a finish that it doesn’t hurt. I understand the argument that it’s the perception of it that hurts racing, but I feel we should be concentrating on education people about it, instead of banning it.

Me: Is it difficult to come from such a massive racing family, with the pressure of constantly being compared to your dad or your brother?

Donnacha: Not really. I’m used to it as this stage. I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Me: What is your favourite race of your career, win or lose?

Donnacha: I got a real buzz out of Kew Gardens at Ascot. I always thought he could beat Stradivarius and to do it the way he did was very exciting.

Me: What would you say to anyone who thinks racing is animal cruelty?

Stop reading things from people that don’t know what they are talking about. Go to a yard during an open day and meet the horses and people that look after them in person and then decide for yourself.

Me: If you could ride any horse that you never did, past or present, what horse would you choose?

Donnacha: It would have to be Frankel. He was the best I’ve seen and possibly the best ever.

Me: You bowed out at the top as the Irish Champion Jockey for two consecutive seasons – Do you have any regrets in your riding career? Or any races you wish you could have won?

Donnacha: Of course there’s plenty I didn’t achieve, but you can’t achieve everything. I was very lucky in my career and I don’t have any regrets.

Me: Your dad and brother are obviously incredible trainers – How much advice have you taken from them? What’s the best advice you have been given?

Donnacha: I have learned everything I know from my family. Dad always says “you can only do your best, so if things don’t go right you have to accept it and move on.”

Me: What is one of your horses that you think we should look out for this season?

Donnacha: Fancy Blue is probably the highest profile horse I have. She is two from two and will hopefully contest some classic trials next year.

Me: What is your favourite day of the racing calendar?

Donnacha: Royal Ascot is a very exciting week for everyone in flat racing. That along with both the Irish and English Derby days.

Me: You’re only 21 and already achieved some incredible things, what is your best advice for young people who have a passion they want to follow, whether that be racing or something else?

Donnacha: Try and always be pleasant to people. It’s never an advantage to make someone dislike you regardless of whether you agree with them or not. After that, all you can do is your best.

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I want to firstly say a massive thank you to Donnacha for taking some time out to answer some questions, he truly is a gentleman. Donnacha has some very exciting prospects in his yard and I am sure he will be adding to his yard more and more as he progresses. I really hope you enjoyed this interview and I will see you all in my next post!

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