Horseracing has been a great tradition in the UK for hundreds of years. According to Wikipedia, the sport generates over £3.7 billion for the British economy and our country is home to nearly 60 licensed racecourses, which in itself demonstrates exactly how popular horse racing has become.
Occasionally, one horse stands out from its competitors to become a National Icon. But what happens to these horses after the camera bulbs stop flashing and they’ve been overshadowed by a younger, hungrier steed? Read on to find out.
Shergar shot to fame by winning the 202nd Epsom Derby in 1981 and achieving a lead of ten lengths, the longest margin in the history of the race. Named European Horse of the Year, the Irish racehorse retired from racing the following September.
But Shergar hit the headlines again in 1983 when he was stolen by masked gunmen from the Ballymany Stud. Nobody was ever discovered and the controversial incident has been the subject of several publications and documentaries, with the story even having been made into a film.
Although elements of the incident still remain a mystery, it’s now widely believed that Shergar was stolen by members of the IRA in an attempt to extract a ransom, but the horse was killed when the kidnappers realised that their plan had failed.
Perhaps the most famous UK horse of all time, Red Rum achieved a historic triple victory when he won the Grand National in 1973, 74 and 77, coming a close second in the two intervening years. During the 1973 Grand National, Red Rum achieved a win after being more than 30 lengths behind and the race is often considered to be one of the greatest in the history of the competition.
News of Red Rum’s death in 1995 was on every UK paper’s front page and the horse was buried by the winning post at the famous Aintree Racecourse. In 2002 Red Rum’s Grand National win was voted the 24th best sporting moment in British history, and eleven years after Red Rum passed away a survey found that he was still the UK’s most famous racehorse.
Horseracing was losing popularity at the beginning of the 1970s and the Grand National was facing an uncertain future, but Red Rum’s amazing victories reenergised the sport and won huge public support that allowed the tradition to continue.
Party Politics was the largest ever horse to win the Grand National and made a name for himself as a very appropriately named winner just five days before the UK general election which saw John Major beat Neil Kinnock in the polls and become British Prime Minister.
Owned by Patricia Thompson, Party Politics was ridden to victory by Carl Llewellyn and came second in 1995’s race. Many fans attest that the horse could have achieved another win if the void race in 1993 had not occurred. Party politics retired in 1996 and lived at his owners Newmarket based stud farm until his death in 2009. However, the champion horse stayed in the public eye and over his 13 years of retirement made several celebrity appearances, the last being just before the Grand National in 2008.
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Tracy O’Beirne is horse mad! She’s the founder of Luvponies.com, a website dedicated to providing amazing horsey gifts for those who share her passion for ponies.