I’ve seen that film [of Shergar’s Epsom win] I don’t know how many, tens or hundreds of times. I keep trying to analyse where this remarkable performance came from and every time I see the film, I feel that I have learned something…. I had watched quite enough races to be able to determine what the jockey probably was feeling, how the horse was going, and when he came around Tattenham Corner, I couldn’t believe my eyes, frankly…. His victory was, as we all know, up to this point in time, unique. But I think I had two things that I found stunning — one was the ease with which that horse moved and second the fact that during the finishing straight, he just kept going away, going away, going away. That was really, I think, remarkable.

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Interviewer: Mick Fitzgerald

To mark the anniversary of [Shergar’s] famous 1981 win, his trainer, jockey and owner reflect on the horse in a documentary called The Shergar Story …

BBC Radio 5 host: Mick, you went to see Shergar’s owner, the Aga Khan. What was that … a pretty rare invterview I would imagine?

Mick Fitzgerald: Extremely rare and I’d have to admit, when I got on the Eurostar to see him in Paris I was nervous because when I’d done some research on the man and realised that he was a spiritual leader and he’s got a world of expectation and so many people who look up to him, I felt honoured to be able to interview him. And straight away you become a little bit flustered …

Even when I was on the short train hop, from Paris out to Chantilly to go and see him, I still couldn’t believe it was actually going to happen. And then when we arrived at the gate and were met with security who took our passports, I then thought this is quite serious. You realise then the magnitude of the event that you’re about to take place in. Then you get introduced into his study, and then he appears. And he’s got such an aura and presence about him that straight away you’re back to being a school-boy looking up at the teacher, and it really felt like that. He’s just an amazing man. He’s got such a presence about him and then to try and get into the interview I thought well, the obvious thing to do was to ask him was the memory of the big day back in 1981 still clear.

His Highness the Aga Khan: Oh yes. It’s a memory that can never, never go away.

MF: When you saw him in the early races, when he won at Chester and when he won the classic trial at Sandown, did you think he was a special horse or did you think he was just racing against inferior opposition?

AK: No, I was impressed with his victory at Chester because it’s a tight course and it’s a course where a horse has to be handy. And he showed great aptitude to what was a testing course and one of the worries I had was obviously the course at Epsom, and I knew how complex a course it is for a thoroughbred.

MF: When you were watching the race, before the start, were you nervous because he was a very sharp price favourite for the race?

AK: Yes I was nervous. If you have a favourite in any Classic, you’re going to be nervous. But I had inherited the horses a few decades earlier, but the Derby was not something that I had achieved so far and my grandfather had been very successful so as the next generation in the family I had some ambitions.

MF: Walter Swinburn your jockey, 19, never ridden in a race like the Derby, but yet you had the utmost faith in him?

AK: Yes I did. Swinburn knew the horse and one of the most important things, in my view, in the way a jockey rides a horse, is whether he really knows how to optimise the aptitude of the individual. And this horse was always under Walter who was very well placed in the field. He knew where he wanted to be and he never got himself locked in so he was a relatively easy horse to ride, but nonetheless you had to have some pretty calm nerves. In the Derby he was well placed in the sense that he had daylight around him for much of the course, so I think that was an advantage that Walter gave him.

MF: He said, in your book, that it was a dream come true when he won the derby. Was it that for you?

AK: Yes, I mean if you’re in racing, the Epsom Derby is one of the greats. It always has been, and so to win a race of that quality in itself is an extraordinary privilege. To win it the way he won it, was more than that.

MF: Could you actually believe what you were seeing when Walter looked round before the furlong pole?

AK: (Chuckles) Yes and no. I had watched quite enough races to be able to determine what the jockey probably was feeling, how the horse was going, and when he came around Tattenham Corner, I couldn’t believe my eyes, frankly.

[Flashback to the commentary in final moments of the race] There’s only one horse in it. You need a telescope to see the rest. They have a furlong to go. And Shergar is galloping them into the crowd.[?]

His victory was, as we all know, up to this point in time, unique. I had two things that I found stunning — one was the ease with which that horse moved and second the fact that during the finishing straight, he just kept going away, going away, going away. That was really, I think, remarkable.

MF: When you’ve got a horse like him, you travel around the world now, people ask you about your great horses, do they still ask you about Shergar?

AK: Oh yes, they still ask about Shergar and he, I think, has left amazing memories in many people’s minds.

MF: We know that you’ve recently watched a recording of Shergar winning at Epsom. Did it still make you get a “wow” factor?

AK: Oh very much so. I’ve seen that film I don’t know how many, tens or hundreds of times. I keep trying to analyse where this remarkable performance came from and every time I see the film, I feel that I have learned something.

MF: Do you feel a little sad maybe that we still don’t have Shergar’s legacy?

AK: Yes, I mean he wasn’t at stud long enough to mark my breeding operation, or anybody else’s for that matter, but the blood line which he came from is still very, very strong in my operation. Very strong.

MF: As an Irishman, when it all went wrong, when Shergar disappeared, the Irish people are extremely grateful to you for not turning your back on them. And you still remain such a strong presence in Ireland.

Ireland was a very, very unhappy country at the time. I don’t think you can hold the people of a country responsible for criminal behaviour. It is ethically wrong.

AK: Well you know because of my institutional work I have seen a lot of very unhappy situations in countries around the world, since 1957, and Ireland was a very, very unhappy country at the time. I don’t think you can hold the people of a country responsible for criminal behaviour. It is ethically wrong. In addition to which, Ireland had a very, very great tradition of breeding great thoroughbreds. My grandfather had been there, my father, I’m still there, and I think my children will still be there.

MF: The fact that Walter Swinburn, who rode him, says, “He is the best that he ever rode”, would you go along with that?

AK: I’ve always found it difficult to compare, frankly, over 20 years or 25 years, horses of great quality so I tend to look at other indicators. I look at things like the time, the going, etc. But in terms of the relativity of his performance, without any doubt he was one of the very greatest.

BBC Radio 5 host to Mick Fitzgerald: Did you get a sense that he was still very, very upset about what happened all those years ago in 1983?

Mick Fitzgerald: It’s amazing being in his company. I couldn’t help but be in awe of him and every time I asked him a question his answer was so precise that I almost felt like I’ve got to ask him another question. It just seemed to be so final, everything that he said to me.

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