Sadly, the racing career of Shergar will forever be overshadowed by events on the night of February 8, 1983, when the horse was kidnapped, at gunpoint, from the Ballymany Stud in Co. Kildare, Ireland and never seen again. Nevertheless, whatever his ultimate fate, it should not be forgotten that his winning margin of ten lengths – which could have been larger, had jockey Walter Swinburn eased down inside the final furlong – in the 1981 Derby remains a record for the Epsom Classic.
Indeed, so far clear was he that John Matthias, jockey of the remote second, Glint Of Gold, thought he had won the race.
Having won the Sandown Classic Trial, over a mile-and-a-quarter, and the Chester Vase, over a mile-and-a-half, by ten lengths and twelve lengths, respectively, Shergar arrived at Epsom with, far and away, the best form of any horse in the Derby field. Unsurprising, he was sent off odds-on favourite, at 10/11, and what followed was later described by Timeform as ‘arguably the most one-sided Derby of modern times’. Rounding Tattenham Corner, the sweeping, downhill turn into the straight at Epsom, fully half-a-mile from the winning post, it became clear that Shergar would win, and win easily. He took a two-length lead with three furlongs to run and went further and further clear, leading commentator to exclaim, ‘The Derby is a procession!’ and ‘You need a telescope to see the rest!’
Watch Shergar’s 1981 Derby Win
Famously trained by the late Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain on the sands of Southport Beach on Merseyside, northwest England, Red Rum won the Grand National for the first time in 1973. On that occasion, ridden by Brian Fletcher, Red Rum overhauled long-time leader, Crisp, who had been thirty lengths clear at one stage, in the dying strides to win by three-quarters of a length in a course record time of 9 minutes and 1.9 seconds.
Red Rum and Fletcher returned to Aintree for another crack at the celebrated steeplechase in 1974 and duly won again. Despite the welter burden of twelve stone, Red Rum came home seven lengths ahead of his nearest rival, L’Escargot. In so doing, he became the first horse since Reynoldstown, in 1936, to record back-to-back wins in the Grand National and – notwithstanding subsequent reductions in the maximum weight carried – remains the only horse since World War II to carry such a weight to victory. Red Rum finished second in the 1975 and 1976 renewals of the Grand National, in 1975 under Brian Fletcher and in 1976 under Tommy Stack, who replaced Fletcher after the latter made disparaging comments to the press about Red Rum and was informed by McCain that he would not be riding the horse again.
Stack was once again aboard Red Rum when he lined up, as a twelve-year-old, for the 1977 Grand National. Generally regarded as past his prime, Red Rum was, nonetheless, saddled with top-weight once again, albeit just eleven stone and eight pounds, and was sent off joint-second favourite at 9/1. He took the lead at the twenty-second fence, Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, following the departure of favourite Andy Pandy, and stormed home to his unprecedented third win in the race, twenty-five lengths clear of his nearest rival.