27 January 2008

It was a shocking, shameful, callous, stupid end which will revolt all decent people on both sides of the Irish Sea. Confirmation of it will cast a brief black cloud over the blazing meteor of a memory that was Shergar in the summer of 1981.

He didn’t just win the English and Irish Derbies: at Epsom he disappeared over the horizon. In the straight, his white face and Walter Swinburn’s dark green silks drew further and further away from the field. In pursuit, John Matthias on Glint of Gold worked his way past the other runners to glimpse only daylight ahead of him and ruefully return with a post-race quote that has gone into folklore : “I thought I had won.”

Shergar was not particularly big or massively muscled but he became an extraordinary racing machine. He had a short, quick stride and he just powered away from his rivals. He came home 10 lengths clear at Sandown, 12 lengths at Chester and at Epsom the margin, the longest winning distance in history, became academic.

Swinburn, with his timeless talent, added to the alchemy, but when he had to miss the Irish Derby through suspension, Lester Piggott gave Shergar’s rivals just as contemptuous if not quite so distant a drubbing. Young Walter was back for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, Britain’s biggest race of the year. It was all utterly glorious but he did not run again until failing in the St Leger in September and then it was over.

He was retired to stud, where we thought he would live the happy sultan’s life in the reflected glory of his many sons. We thought wrong.

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