This Day In History: February 8

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Gunmen steal the champion Irish race horse Shergar from a stud farm owned by the Aga Khan in County Kildare, Ireland. The five-year-old thoroughbred stallion, named European horse of the year in 1981, was worth $13.5 million and commanded stud fees of approximately $100,000.

On the night of the heist, armed men arrived at the home of one of Shergar’s grooms, James Fitzpatrick, and forced him to lead them to the horse and help load him onto a trailer. The kidnappers dropped Fitzpatrick on a remote road later that night and then demanded a ransom of more than $2 million for Shergar’s return.

Negotiations with the kidnappers were short-lived and fruitless. Despite a highly publicized search by authorities, Shergar was never seen again and no ransom was paid. The case was never solved, although there were a variety of theories about the identity of the kidnappers. The most popular one held that the Irish Republican Army stole the animal in order to raise money for weapons, but ended up killing him in a panic because he was too difficult to handle. Former IRA member Sean O’Callaghan supported this theory in his book The Informer.

Another famous horse-napping was that of Canadian-bred Fanfreluche from Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky, in June 1977. The race horse, who was in foal at the time to 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, was successfully recovered in another part of the state in December 1977. She was being cared for and used as a riding horse by a farmer who said he found the thoroughbred walking along a road. A Kentucky man was later convicted for the theft. Fanfreluche gave birth to Sain et Sauf (Safe and Sound) several months later and died of old age in 1999.