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  Saturday, 2 June, 2001, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
Shergar: A racing uncertainty
Shergar wins the 1981 Epsom Derby
Shergar won the Derby by the greatest margin in history
He was the most impressive Derby winner in history but Shergar seems destined to be remembered as the equine equivalent of Lord Lucan.

The subject of books, documentaries, even a TV drama and a feature film, Shergar has become the stuff of legend.

The myths surrounding his disappearance should not disguise the fact that he was one of the most talented Flat horses in history.

Of his eight races, he won six, earning 436,000 for his connections.

His awesome win in the 1981 Epsom Derby was the biggest winning margin in the race's long history.

Planned birth

The horse was bred in Ireland and was at the centre of the Aga Khan's intricately organised breeding operation.

On his first starts as a three-year-old, he triumphed in the Classic Trial by 10 lengths, the Chester Vase by 12 lengths and the Epsom Derby by 10 lengths.

He took the Irish Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by four lengths each.

He remains the last odds-on winner of the Epsom Derby and his victory gave the Aga Khan his first English Classic winner and the horse's stud value a huge boost.

When he was retired to stud, 34 syndication shares were sold for 250,000 each.

  Shergar's victory in the 1981 Epsom Derby
Start: Shergar's 18-year-old jockey Walter Swinburn gets his mount into a good position as soon as the starting gates go up.
Halfway point: Shergar lies in third position.
Tattenham Corner: Most of the runners are off the bridle while Shergar is just cantering.
Three furlong marker: Swinburn coaxes Shergar into the lead.
Final furlong: Swinburn has time to look round before easing Shergar down to cross the line 10 lengths clear, the biggest margin in Derby history.

But on 8 February 1983, a week before the start of his second breeding season, Shergar was snatched from the Aga Khan's Ballymany Stud in County Kildare.

The kidnap made front page news and the conspiracy theories began.

An Irish radio station received a ransom demand for 1.5m, just one of several bogus ones flying around.

The kidnappers were said to have left photos of the horse in a hotel as proof that Shergar was still alive.

Stories circulated claiming that the horse had been spirited off to a stud in the Middle East.

Another rumour was that the horse's sperm had been extracted and sold.

IRA blamed

The syndicate issued a report blaming the IRA for the kidnap.

It also revealed that the last contact with the kidnappers was four days after the snatch.

This theory gained more weight when an ex-IRA police informer said that the IRA had kidnapped Shergar to raise funds to buy weapons.

But they had not reckoned on the fragile temperament of a finely-tuned thoroughbred - and his captors shot the horse when he panicked, within hours of the snatch.

The informer added that Shergar had been buried in woodlands 100 miles away.

A skull found last year did not belong to Shergar

In 1996, an Irish laboratory tried to match two hairs taken from Shergar by souvenir-hunting veterinary students on a stable visit to the body of a horse.

Even as recently as last year, scientists examined a skull containing two bullet holes which had been found wrapped in cloth on a footpath in Tralee, 200 miles from the Ballymany Stud.

However, the skull was found to belong to a much younger horse.

There is still no conclusive proof of what happened to Shergar.

The stud syndicate's insurers refused to pay out, saying that the horse could still be alive or could have died after the policy expired.

Awesome reputation

Shergar is still used as a barometer for greatness today.

The breathtaking nature of his Derby win earned him a place in the Observer's 100 Most Memorable Sporting Moments of the 20th Century.

In honour of the horse, the Shergar Cup was run at Goodwood in 1999.

The event, which has now switched to Ascot, is an annual contest between European jockeys and those from the rest of the world - horse racing's version of the Ryder Cup.

The race is a tribute to the phenomenal talent of Shergar and it is unfair to remember him as merely the victim of a bungled kidnap attempt.

There may be a hazy mist of speculation about his destiny but one fact that cannot be disputed is that he won the world's most famous Flat race by the biggest-ever margin.

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