Oldtimers in India may well recall the name of Wally Swinburn. He was a popular Irish rider who rode with great success in both Bombay and Calcutta in the sixties. In fact, in the very year that his son Walter (Junior) was born (1961), Wally rode a memorable race astride a horse called Pa Bear in Calcutta. Participating in the inaugural running of the Queen Elizabeth Cup, in the presence of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, Pa Bear was ridden to a shock victory by the brilliant rider in inimitable fashion. Just when it seemed that the unfancied runner may call it a day opposite the grandstand, he kicked on merrily under Swinburn’s strong handling.
Despite being the son of a top rider, Walter Swinburn did not have it all his own way in his early career. His first winner was Paddy’s Luck in the year 1978.His great determination and will to win were at times not seen in kind light by the guardians and he served several suspensions in the early part of his career. However, all that became a distant memory in the eighties when he piloted the pair of Shergar and Shahrastrani to Ebsom Derby triumphs in 1981 and ’.86 respectively.
His association with the stables of the world-renowned Aga Khan was turning out to be a highly lucrative one.
The highlight of Walter R Swinburn’s career was undoubtedly the win of Shergar in the Epsom Derby. Swinburn always maintained that he was a dream horse, and memories of that derby win remain crystal clear. A bay colt with a distinctive white blaze, Shergar was named European Horse of the Year in 1981 and retired from racing that September.
It was a very sad day for racing when Shergar was kidnapped by a gang of armed robbers.
The shareholders of the Aga Khan syndicate refused to pay the huge ransom as they wanted to deter future kidnappings. Swinburn, who is now a trainer, has been baffled by the kidnapping till date.
“I’m as puzzled as anyone, puzzled to this day. I visited him many times at Ballymaney stud..
. and you could walk up to him in the paddock and catch him, his temperament was the same as when he was a racehorse,” he said in an interview to a leading tv channel.
He also added, “The ending will never spoil the memories, the great memories of the 1981 Epsom Derby. They are crystal clear and as fresh now as they were then.”
“He (Shergar) was in charge, that was the lovely thing about him, he paced himself.
He had this enormous engine,” he said.
“I was only 19, he was a very uncomplicated horse. He had a marvellous temperament. A lot has been spoken about how marvellous he was, but his temperament was equal to that.”
“For someone at 19 years of age to come across a horse like him was dream come true.
Swinburn added: “He was a once in a lifetime horse and the further my career went on, and even now as a trainer, I realise one will never come round like Shergar.”
Swinburn pulled off a Classic double with Shahrastani in 1986 when he annexed both the English and Irish Derbies. At Epsom, he pegged back the hot favourite Dancing Brave in a thundering finish.