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That there has been a worldwide epidemic of kidnappings, newspaper readers well know. They are probably unaware, however, that an outbreak of horsenappings has occurred as well. The news is as fresh as the snatching of Nelson Bunker Hunt's stakes-class racehorse Carnauba from the San Siro track in Italy three weeks ago. In August one of Italy's most valuable trotters, Wayne Eden, was stolen and presumably held for ransom. He was recovered. The supposition is that he was indeed ransomed, but the owner isn't talking. In May a 2-year-old thoroughbred was taken from a barn at the Laurel Race Course in Maryland. Ransom of $20,000 was asked. The horse was found in a nearby swamp and a young Laurel groom, along with another teen-ager, was questioned. Last year the harness racing world was shaken when Melvin's Woe, winner of the 1973 Little Brown Jug, the foremost event for pacers, disappeared from an Ohio farm. There was a "You'll never see your horse again" threat. Melvin turned up two days later, wandering along a roadway five miles from the farm.
But perhaps the most troubling case of all is the disappearance of two fine young future racehorses from a barn at Keeneland one Sunday morning last month just before they were to be auctioned in the yearling sales. The theft occurred between 12:15 and 5:45 a.m. The horses were safely in their stalls on opposite sides of Barn 2 when the water buckets were refilled at midnight. At daybreak the stalls were empty.
The theft, first at Keeneland in 31 years, has left trainers perplexed, law officials puzzled and farm owners worried. It has also called attention, again, to the industry's need for better security in the stable area and improved methods of identifying the 28,000 thoroughbred foals being produced annually.
"Crazy. None of it makes sense. Dick Francis wouldn't dare write a mystery like this," says Charlie Boone, the consignor of one of the missing yearlings, a chestnut colt sired by the 1970 Preakness winner Personality. "First I was mad. Now I'm curious. Who got him? Why? And just what do they intend to do with him? They obviously think they can get away with running him under another horse's name next year, as a 2-year-old. I don't think they can. Not this one. Not with all the white markings. The other horse, though, I think they can."
Bob Stilz, the owner of "the other horse," shares Boone's opinion. "Unfortunately, my Bagdad colt was an ideal prospect for whoever took him," Stilz says. "He had no white at all. He was a straight bay, with no distinguishing marks except an indentation under his chin. He was kicked as a foal, before weaning time, by his momma. There was a bruise, the blood collected there, and when it was lanced it caused an indentation, but it's not readily apparent in a photograph or by casually looking at him."
Stilz' yearling was one of the sale's better prospects. Several owners and trainers came to Barn 2 on the Saturday before the theft to inspect the colt. More came on Sunday—too late. Bagdad, the sire, had been represented by stakes winners on both coasts in recent weeks. The dam was a young stakes winner, as was the dam of the Personality colt.
"I think somebody viewed our colt, looked him over pretty good, and liked what he saw—especially the lack of markings on the straight bay," Stilz suggests. "There is a big parking lot out there, across the access road which runs right next to Barn 2. My supposition would be that they tranquilized both colts, led them out to the back of the big parking lot where vans are almost always parked, loaded them and took off."
Both yearlings were comparatively docile, almost shy, animals. Each had made but one van trip, the one from the farm to the sale. The Personality colt had gone up and down the loading ramp nicely, but it took four men to get the Bagdad colt into Stilz' Crescent Hill Farm van.
"No one person did this," Boone says. "They had to get the horses, then tranquilize them by using a needle and a syringe to shoot the tranquilizer into the vein. If they did it right the yearlings could have been ready to be handled in 10 minutes. They'd have raised hell in the middle of the night had anyone tried to walk them away from there. They were green. And there were people in each tack room at the end of the barn."
There are trainers at Keeneland who believe the thieves had inside help. "Certainly it was premeditated," says Stilz. "You don't do this to get a pleasure horse. You don't go to all this trouble if you don't intend to run these colts somewhere."