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Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case


by Milton C. Toby

Review by Nancy Brannon

Milton Toby’s Taking Shergar tells the true story of the famous Epsom Derby winner who was stolen and held for ransom at the height of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Toby did extensive research for the book, making two trips to Ireland and England tracking down contacts and information.

Shergar was a beautiful horse: the bay colt had a blaze, four white socks, and a walleye. “He was an easy horse to handle. He never gave any trouble,” Toby quotes Cliff Lines, who regularly worked with the colt for two years. Toby writes that Lines’ “home is a testament to a life well lived, a rich life filled with horses.”

It was a cold, foggy February night in 1983 when a group of armed thieves crept onto the Aga Khan IV’s Ballymany Stud, near The Curragh in County Kildare, Ireland, to steal Shergar, who was, by then, one of the most renowned Thoroughbred stallions. Shergar had 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 one of the most valuable Thoroughbreds in the world, but the ransom was never paid and Shergar’s remains have never been found.

I met Toby this past summer at the American Horse Publications Equine Media Conference. I was impressed by his expertise and thoroughness in the topics he presented. Here, Toby presents in-depth background information – about the colt’s beginnings, training, and impressive race record; about the historical developments prior to and surrounding the colt’s kidnapping; and about the people involved with the horse – each with its own distinct chapter. Toby examines the extensive cast of suspects and their alleged motives, including the Irish Republican Army and their need for new weapons, a French bloodstock agent who died in Central Kentucky, and even the Libyan dictator, Muammar al-Qadhafi.

Taking Shergar expands the complicated backstory with Toby’s meticulously researched account. It is more than a “horse book.” Even readers who are unfamiliar with European racing will find this a compelling story about an ill-conceived, poorly executed scheme to steal one of the most valuable horses in the world, and the convoluted aftermath when the plan went horribly wrong.

In April 2017 Milton Toby was awarded the annual national writing award presented by the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) for his article published in BloodHorse, “Taking Shergar: Horse Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case.” “Taking Shergar” was judged the best article published in a trade magazine in 2016. The annual awards honor outstanding nonfiction work produced on a freelance basis by independent writers during the previous year. Read the 2016 article at:  

About the author: Based in central Kentucky and vice president of ASJA, Toby is an attorney and author, and he has been writing about Thoroughbred racing since Secretariat won the Triple Crown. He lives with his wife, equine veterinarian Roberta Dwyer, and a much-loved menagerie of dogs and a cat. Find more information about the author at:
Additional article about Shergard:

Alderson, Andrew. “The Truth About Shergard Racehorse Kidnapping.” The Telegraph, Jan. 2008.

This article cites information from “a close friend of one of the kidnappers” to reveal what really happened to Shergar. “The source said that the two handlers, one clutching a machine gun, went into the remote stable where the horse was being held and opened fire. ‘Shergar was machine gunned to death. There was blood everywhere and the horse even slipped on his own blood. There was lots of cussin' and swearin' because the horse wouldn't die. It was a very bloody death.’ It was several minutes before the horse, which was in agony, slowly bled to death.”

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