Tag Archives: Milton C. Toby

A Look at the Night He Disappeared

It was a cold and foggy February night in 1983 when a group of armed thieves crept onto Ballymany Stud, near The Curragh in County Kildare, Ireland, to steal Shergar, one of the Thoroughbred industry’s most renowned stallions. Bred and raced by the Aga Khan IV and trained in England by Sir Michael Stoute, Shergar achieved international prominence in 1981 when he won the 202nd Epsom Derby by ten lengths—the longest winning margin in the race’s history. The thieves demanded a hefty ransom for the safe return of one of the most valuable Thoroughbreds in the world, but the ransom was never paid and Shergar’s remains have never been found.

In Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case, Milton C. Toby presents an engaging narrative that is as thrilling as any mystery novel. The book provides new analysis of the body of evidence related to the stallion’s disappearance, delves into the conspiracy theories that surround the inconclusive investigation, and presents a profile of the man who might be the last person able to help solve part of the mystery.

In honor of such a gripping tale, we have included an excerpt from Taking Shergar below, which tells of the beginning of the mystery that is the disappearance of one of the most beloved champions of horse racing.

The story broke early Wednesday morning.
Julian Lloyd, a livestock insurance underwriter for the John Marsh Syndicate at the time, was staying at the Keadeen Hotel in Newbridge. He had an 8:00 a.m. appointment that day to meet a veterinary surgeon from Sycamore Lodge Equine Hospital, a clinic located at The Curragh. The two were supposed to visit the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud, just a mile down the road and situated between the hotel and the racecourse, to talk about a possible increase in insurance premiums. The veterinarian arrived in a rush as Lloyd was walking out of the hotel.
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Shergar winning the Chester Vase by twelve lengths on May 5, 1981. (George Selwyn)

“We’re in good time, Joe,” Lloyd told his friend. “There’s no need to hurry.”

“Oh, no,” the vet said. “Shergar was taken in the night.”

“What?”

“He was taken.”
“You mean he’s dead, Joe?”

“No, you eejit, taken. Someone stole Shergar!”
“Oh my God!”
Lloyd tried to piece together the story of what happened to Shergar, but information was scarce and nothing he heard made any sense. The first reports were brief and confusing. An armed gang? Shergar missing? The stud groom kidnapped? Ransom? The Irish Republican Army?

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Shergar with jockey Walter Swinburn and lad Dickie McCabe before his 10-length victory in the Guardian Newspaper Classic Trial at Sandown Park on April 25, 1981. (Miralgo Publications Photo Archives/John Crofts photo)

Tuesday, February 8, one of the coldest days in Ireland that year, started like any other for James Fitzgerald. A quiet man in his fifties, Fitzgerald had worked for the Aga Khan’s family for his entire life, ever since 1945, when he was sixteen years old. Now he was the stud groom at Ballymany, a job his father had held before him, and one of the most valuable Thoroughbreds in the world was his responsibility. Fitzgerald took the job seriously, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine being asked one day to put his life on the line for “his” horse.

Fitzgerald lived with his wife and children in a house a short walk from the four-stall stallion barn. The house was isolated, situated at the end of a narrow, tree-covered lane well off the road running between Newbridge and Kildare Town. Security at Ballymany consisted merely of a heavy wooden gate with a simple latch at the bottom of the lane. A sign for visitors read: “please close gate.
Around 8:40 in the evening, a man wearing a long coat and peaked cap, the way a Garda officer might dress on such a bitterly cold and rainy night, walked up to James Fitzgerald’s house and knocked on the front door. Fitzgerald, who had just returned from checking on Shergar one last time before turning in for the night, was upstairs and one of his sons, Bernard, went to the door. No one expected visitors at that time of night.
Hearing the knock at the door and then a commotion from the front of the house, Fitzgerald hurried downstairs. He found chaos, a scene that he could not immediately comprehend. Bernard lay pinned to the floor by a masked man and two other men in balaclavas were shouting, waving their hands, and pointing guns at his family.“We’ve come for Shergar,” one of the men said.
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A Look at the Kentucky Book Fair on November 17

KBF_2018_UPK_ProgramAd.jpgNow in its thirty-seventh year, the Kentucky Book Fair is expanding to become the signature piece of a larger event, the Kentucky Book Festival. Organized by Kentucky Humanities, the Kentucky Book Festival will span from November 12 to 17 and involve six days full of literary events around Lexington, culminating in Kentucky Book Fair on November 17 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm at Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park. The fair will feature more than 180 authors, including over twenty-five who have been published by University Press of Kentucky (UPK):

 

 

In addition to authors who will be signing their books on the main arena floor on November 17, the Kentucky Book Fair will host a series of panel discussions and presentations for authors and readers alike on the main stage and in breakout rooms that day. Several panels include UPK authors eager to share their work:

The Kentucky Book Festival will be holding a series of events throughout the week at several different locations around Lexington. The events include readings, cocktail parties, trivia, and more:

  • Monday, November 12, 6:30 to 8:00 pm—The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning will host “New Kentucky Poetry & Prose” with readings by Willie Davis, UPK author Jeremy Paden, Robert Gipe, and Maureen Morehead. Free and open to the public; no tickets required.
  • Tuesday, November 13, 12:00 to 2:00 pm—ArtsPlace will host “A Literary Luncheon with Silas House” featuring him reading from his new novel Southernmost. Tickets are required and available for $40 at kyhumanities.org; seating is limited.
  • Friday, November 16—Jonathan S. Cullick, author of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men: A Reader’s Companion, will teach a KBF Master Class on the basic rhetoric principles of persuasion and how to use them to more than 300 students. This event is for preregistered students and not open to the public.

Dedicated to honoring the profession of writing and to providing a format for authors to meet their reading public, the Kentucky Book Fair attracts thousands of avid readers and patrons nationwide. Featuring a broad range of titles including children’s books, military history, mystery, nature, fiction, and nonfiction, the fair attracts promotes reading across genres and age levels. Founded in 1981, the Kentucky Book Fair is the state’s leading literary event.

A full list of Kentucky Book Festival activities can be found on the Kentucky Humanities website.

Q&A with Milton C. Toby, author of Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case

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. TobyCompF

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.