Taking Shergar: Burden of beast
TAKING SHERGAR by Milton C. Toby. Published by University Press of Kentucky. 196 pages. $29.95 retail.
Whether one believes in Bigfoot or not, a more legitimate – and more historic – mystery is tackled in Taking Shergar, a true-crime treatise that, in the parlance of the Western genre, could conceivably be tabbed “a horse opera.”
In February 1983, in Ireland’s County Kildare, a group of men committed a kidnapping – one that sent shockwaves through the United Kingdom and, indeed, the world. Shergar, the stallion that had won by the 1981 Epsom Derby by a record-breaking 10 lengths and was considered one of the top thoroughbreds in competition, had been abducted.
Appropriately subtitled Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case, author Milton C. Toby sifts through rumor and evidence in methodical fashion to get to the bottom of the mystery. That Taking Shergar doesn’t build to a particular climax is no fault of Toby’s, as Shergar was never recovered. The trail, while never hot – due in large part to the delay in notifying the authorities of the horse-napping – very quickly turned cold, so much so that psychics were actually enlisted to assist the investigation.
In the parlance of the mystery genre: Whodunit?
Needless to say, the culprits aren’t talking, and those who hinted (or stated outright) they might have been involved are dead. But Toby offers extremely persuasive conjecture that the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was behind the abduction.
For those who don’t remember, or weren’t yet alive, the early 1980s were a particularly heated time in the long-standing “Troubles” between the English monarchy and Northern Ireland. Only a few years before, the IRA had bombed Lord Mountbatten’s yacht, an act that certainly achieved headlines but also, to an extent, effectively and further divided the movement, appalling even some long-time IRA hard-liners. The subsequent success of Shergar, and the publicity he engendered made him a symbol … and a target.
Having written extensively about thoroughbred racing (Dancer’s Image: The Forgotten Story of the 1968 Kentucky Derby), Toby does a good job of explaining the sport to those unfamiliar with it, as well as the history of the Aga Khan, whose family owned Shergar. And, of course, there’s the legacy of Shergar and what he accomplished, both in his brief life and in his disappearance.
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