On a cold February night in 1983, one of the most valuable Thoroughbreds in the world was stolen in Ireland by a group of armed thieves. The thieves asked for a large sum in exchange for Shergar, but the ransom was never paid. Shergar was never returned, his remains never found. In Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case, Milton C. Toby investigates the mystery and the evidence surrounding it.
The theft of Shergar occurred nearly forty years ago. What attracted you to this story that has already been written about by many?
The ideal subject for a book is a story that people think they already know, when in reality they don’t know much about it at all. The theft of Shergar is one of those stories. Almost from the start, conventional wisdom was that the Irish Republican Army was behind the theft, but the IRA never claimed responsibility and there were neither arrests nor convictions. Taking Shergar for the first time connects the economic and political environments that kept Shergar in Ireland after his retirement to stud and later made him an ideal target for the cash-strapped IRA.
What was your favorite, if unbelievable, conspiracy theory that you came across in your research?
The most intriguing theory, one that got a bit of coverage by the Irish press in the days after Shergar was stolen, involved the death of a French bloodstock agent in Central Kentucky. Two months before Shergar was stolen, the body of Jean-Michel Gambet was found in a burning car on the side of a rural lane near Keeneland Race Course. He had been shot to death. The police concluded that Gambet’s death was a suicide, disguised to look like a murder, committed because he was deeply in debt. The jury at a coroner’s inquest, on the other hand, ruled that the death was a homicide, by parties unknown. The supposed connection to Shergar arose because in the months before his death, Gambet had been negotiating for the purchase of a horse with the Aga Khan IV, who owned and raced Shergar. According to the conspiracy theorists, Gambet had borrowed from mafia connections in New Orleans to buy the horse, but the deal fell through. When Gambet was unable to repay the loan, the mafia took revenge by killing the bloodstock agent and stealing the Aga Khan’s horse. Retired detective Drexel Neal has always refuted a connection between Gambet and Shergar, but there are tantalizing questions in the investigative file.
You have worked with and written about the Thoroughbred industry for more than forty years. What can casual racing fans and other non-experts gain from this book?
For racing aficionados already familiar with the basics, Taking Shergar expands the complicated backstory through a meticulously researched account that no one has written before. It’s more than a “horse book,” however. Readers who know little about racing will discover a compelling story about an ill-conceived and poorly executed scheme to steal one of the most valuable horses in the world and the convoluted aftermath when the plan went horribly wrong.