Searching for Shergar: BBC documentary recalls dramatic tale of racing icon
Read out the names of the great King George winners and there is one that will trigger an instant spark of recognition from almost anyone, even those without the slightest interest in racing.
That horse is Shergar. Now, 37 years after he posted the final victory of his iconic career in Ascot's summer showpiece, one of the most magnificent thoroughbreds in racing history is being remembered in a new documentary that, as its subject deserves, has been given a prime-time airing.
Searching For Shergar, the work of Erica Starling Productions, will be shown on Sunday at 8pm on BBC2 before being repeated in Ireland on RTE1 at 9.30pm on Tuesday.
In the one-hour programme Bafta-winning film maker Alison Millar looks at the life and death of the dual Derby hero, stolen at gunpoint from the Aga Khan's Ballymany Stud on February 8, 1983. He was never seen alive again, except by his IRA kidnappers.
"In Ireland the horse is seen as a god of the land, so murdering such an incredible animal was symbolic of the dark times of that era," says Millar, whose film features interviews with a number of those closely involved in the astonishing story.
That includes vet and Shergar shareholder Stan Cosgrove, who lost £80,000 in a botched Garda attempt to secure information on the lost horse's whereabouts.
Although the programme pinpoints Aughnasheelin, a small bogland area in County Leitrim near the town of Ballinamore, as the likely final resting place of Shergar, Millar does not believe his bones will ever be found.
She said: "I've made hard films about people who were murdered by the IRA and buried in bogs. I thought finding a horse would be easier, but that wasn't the case.
"The film points to the fear that still remains in those border communities. People just won't speak. The IRA hasn't gone away. There is still that fear someone might come to your door if you say something you shouldn't."
Yet while Shergar's life ended in colossal sadness, this documentary is very much a celebratory tribute, not just to one of the equine legends of the turf, but also his jockey Walter Swinburn, whose mother Doreen talks of the bond between her late son and the horse with which he will forever be most associated.
"I think they were naturals," she says. "Shergar was a natural. Walter was a natural. There was chemistry there, definitely, without a doubt."
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