Sunday 22 September 2019

Obituary: Stan Cosgrove

World-renowned vet who was a central figure in the Shergar story, writes Liam Collins

Expert: Vet Stan Cosgrove
Expert: Vet Stan Cosgrove

As a steward of the Turf Club for more than 40 years, Stan Cosgrove was a leading figure in Irish horse racing, but he gained unwanted international fame as 'Shergar's vet' and became a central figure in the intrigue and farce surrounding the disappearance and search for the wonder horse in 1983.

Shergar had been owned by the Aga Khan and trained in England. During a glittering 1981 campaign, three-year-old Shergar won five out of his six starts, including the English and Irish Derbies and the King George at Ascot, leading some commentators to dub him the best race horse they had ever seen.

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At the end of the season, Shergar was retired to Ballymany Stud at The Curragh, Co Kildare, where he was such a celebrity that he was paraded down the main street of Newbridge on his arrival.

Stan Cosgrove was born in the town of Kildare on September 3, 1927, and studied at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and University College Dublin where he qualified as a vet in 1952. He practised in Dublin before moving to Kildare in 1956. Based in the middle of 'horse country', he pioneered new developments in horse surgery and became an expert in all aspects of equine matters, from breeding to veterinary care.

With the help of Cosgrove, the Swiss multi-millionaire owner and breeder Walter Hafner had taken an old dairy farm on the edge of The Curragh and turned it into one of the finest stud farms in the country. Stan Cosgrove became the vet, the owner's right-hand man in Ireland and part manager of the operation.

After Shergar's Derby victory in 1981, the wily Aga Khan syndicated ownership of the horse, selling more than 40 shares, keeping five for himself and valuing the animal at €10m, which was an astonishing sum for a horse at the time. One of those who bought into the syndicate of 35 owners was Stan Cosgrove himself.

What nobody had factored into the equation was the IRA. The terrorist organisation was looking for funds to buy equipment to kick-start its flagging campaign in Northern Ireland. On the night of February 8, 1983, an armed IRA unit - believed to be led by a man who later became a leading figure in the organisation's political wing, Sinn Fein - called to the house of the stud farm's head groom, Jim Fitzgerald, in the grounds of the stud farm and forced him to identity Shergar.

The horse was loaded into a horse box and driven away. Fitzgerald, a father of two young children, was taken away in another car and dumped on the remote country road near Kilcock, on the borders of Kildare and Westmeath. It is believed that the gang was totally unaware of how to deal with a highly strung thoroughbred and the horse broke a leg and was shot. According to the IRA informer, Sean O'Callaghan, the remains of Shergar were buried in a remote part of Co Leitrim where the gang was based.

When he eventually got back to Ballymany, Fitzgerald contacted Stan Cosgrove and told him of the IRA's €2m ransom demand. Through an intermediary, two Fine Gael government ministers, local TD Alan Dukes and Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, were informed of the kidnapping and ransom demand.

Both of them said the gardai should be contacted, contrary to the orders of the IRA kidnap gang, as did the Aga Khan when he was contacted in Paris.

It was then that Stan Cosgrove became known internationally as Shergar's Vet, leading the search to find the missing horse. Behind the scenes, there was dissension among the syndicate owners about raising a ransom to get the horse back, with one of them, Lord Derby, implacably against the idea. Some had insurance and others had not. Although Cosgrove had insurance, he never got paid because the risk of kidnapping was not covered in the policy.

The search became at times farcical, with Cosgrove going to the Crofton Hotel near Dublin Airport and complying with a code-worded instruction asking "are there any messages for Johnny Logan?" - the name of the well-known Eurovision singer. He was later told that members of the gang, who had sent a picture of a horse's head, which he identified as Shergar and a newspaper, had spotted members of the Garda's elite unit in the grounds of the hotel.

Another complicated 'sting' was arranged eight weeks later and Cosgrove was a central figure in organising £80,000 for an informant, which later disappeared from the boot of a car.

In the aftermath, Stan Cosgrove, who lived at Barrow House, Monasterevin, Co Kildare with his wife Maureen and 10 children, became a leading figure in horse racing due to his professional expertise and his association with Ballymany Stud. He established Troytown Equine Hospital in Kildare and was a long-time director of a bloodstock agency.

Stan Cosgrove, who died on August 29, will be buried in Monasterevin, Co Kildare tomorrow, a day shy of his 92nd birthday. He is survived by his 10 children.

Sunday Independent

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