It remains the sporting world’s most infamous unsolved crime: the theft and subsequent disappearance of legendary ‘super-horse’ Shergar.
The 1981 Epsom Derby winner was kidnapped along with his groom John Fitzgerald in February 1983 from his stud farm in Ballymanny, County Kildare, by a group of masked men.
Whilst Fitzgerald was soon released, the thieves – who investigators believe were members of the IRA – demanded £2million for Shergar’s return.
After a series of phone calls, the kidnappers broke off contact and the magnificent horse, owned by the Aga Khan, was never seen again.
But now, a new investigator has plunged into the cold case: rapper Vanilla Ice.
The horse-mad musician, who is best-known for his 1990 hit Ice Ice Baby, has narrated a seven-part BBC podcast looking in to the abduction.
In Sport’s Strangest Crimes, Ice – who now uses his real name Rob Van Winkle – explores the intricacies of the case.
It remains the sporting world’s most infamous unsolved crime: the theft and subsequent disappearance of legendary ‘super-horse’ Shergar. The 1981 Epsom Derby winner was kidnapped along with his groom John Fitzgerald in February 1983 from his stable in Ballymanny, County Kildare, by a group of masked men
Now, a new investigator has plunged into the cold case: rapper Vanilla Ice. The horse-mad musician, who is best-known for his 1990 hit Ice Ice Baby, has narrated a seven-part BBC podcast exploring the abduction
The rapper, who says he has been obsessed with horses since he was a child, explains in the podcast: ‘The horse’s legend is epic, bigger even than his astonishing wins on the race track.
‘It is decades since he vanished into the night, he is long gone. But you only have to search social media to find his name. This crime still has surprising resonance.’
Shergar won six of his eight races before he was retired in 1981, aged three.
After his success on the racecourse, Shergar was expected to have a long and successful career as a stud – the word used to describe a breeding stallion.
In his first year in his new role, Shergar had ‘covered’ 35 paying customers, at £80,000 per mare.
Then, on Wednesday, February 8, 1983, three masked men – believed to be IRA members – kidnapped Shergar and Fitzgerald at gunpoint.
In Sport’s Strangest Crimes, Ice – who now uses his real name Rob Van Winkle – explores the intricacies of the case. Pictured: The rapper in 2017
Four other men were waiting outside the stud farm. Fortunately for Fitzgerald, he was quickly released on an empty road in Kildare.
The bungled investigation into the theft saw Chief Superintendent James ‘Spud’ Murphy of the Kildare County Garda turn to clairvoyants and psychics for help.
Through a series of threatening phone calls, the kidnappers began trying to negotiate a ransom with the Aga Khan – the spiritual leader of 15 million Ismaili Muslims.
However, the billionaire was no longer the sole owner of the horse. He had syndicated the race winner for £10million, meaning he was now among 35 co-owners.
For a ransom to be paid, all would have to agree to pay up, and they failed to do so.
The kidnappers never called again and exactly what happened next to Shergar remains a mystery.
Shergar’s theft made headlines around the world. The news was on the frontpage of the Daily Mail
Sean O’Callaghan – an IRA killer turned informer – claimed in a book that Shergar was killed after becoming agitated and injuring a leg.
However, a far more gruesome account emerged in a 2008 Sunday Telegraph investigation: that Shergar was machine-gunned to death.
Walter Swinburn, who rode Shergar to victory in the 1981 Epsom Derby, previously said of the tragic case: ‘The IRA destroyed families’ lives, so what’s a horse to them?’
‘They saw the opportunity, they saw the money, they saw the headlines.
‘I was just very blessed to come along and ride Shergar. I was lucky to fall on top of a horse and not need to do anything to win.
‘I always say that the ending can never spoil the great memories.’
The 1981 Epsom Derby winner was kidnapped along with his groom John Fitzgerald in February 1983 from his stud farm in Ballymanny, County Kildare, by a group of masked men
On Wednesday, February 8, 1983, three masked men – believed to be IRA members – kidnapped Shergar and Fitzgerald (pictured in 2013 with a framed picture of Shergar) at gunpoint
In his new podcast series, Ice raises questions about what might have happened.
He asks: ‘Did they just throw him in a field? Did they feed him and pamper him? What did they do with the horse?
‘There’s a big mystery that’s still there. A lot of questions will never get answered.’
Producers asked him to narrate the series after he released his single Ride the Horse in 2019.
It features lyrics including, ‘Ride the horse, ride the horse, ride the pony / Saddle up, baby, go wild on this donkey.’
The podcast also features input from Shergar’s trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, along with BBC presenter Clare Balding and people who were involved in the initial efforts to rescue Shergar.
Ice’s 1990 hit included the line ‘Alright stop, collaborate and listen’, along with the famous chorus, ‘Ice, ice baby’.
The hunt for Shergar: What happened to the £10million racehorse?
On Wednesday, February 8, 1983, having locked the box door, Jim Fitzgerald, Shergar’s groom, walked to the house he shared with his wife Madge and their family in Ballymanny, County Kildare.
Jim had been a stable boy since he was 14. Aged 53, he was caring for an animal worth £10million even then.
At about 8.30pm, the stud’s unguarded gate opened.
A Ford Granada pulling a horsebox, a van and another car came through.
There was a knock at Fitzgerald’s house. His elder son Bernard was closest. As he opened the door, he saw a dark figure.
Shergar won the 1981 Epsom Derby by ten lengths. He was ridden to victory by Walter Swinburn
Bernard turned to fetch his father and was stunned by a blow to his back. Jim hurried forward to be met by a pistol barrel pointing at his heart. The IRA.
‘We’re here for Shergar,’ he was told. ‘We want £2m for him.’ Three kidnappers, all masked and armed, piled in.
Four members of the gang waited outside. Jim was led at gunpoint into the stable yard.
Under the threat of death, he helped entice Shergar into the raiders’ horsebox.
His wife and children were held in the house. ‘Call the police and you all die,’ they were warned.
The IRA took Jim away, driving him around the back roads of Kildare before releasing him on an empty road, shaking but alive.
Numerous tales about the fate of the 1981 double Derby winning horse have emerged since, but he has never been found.
Shergar, ridden by Walter Swinburn, trots to the starting post prior to the Epsom Derby in England