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THE MILLION-DOLLAR HORSE HEIST
Mike DelNagro
August 01, 1977
When Fanfreluche (above), a mare in foal to Secretariat, was stolen from her paddock, the mood at Claiborne Farm turned bluer than the grass. Motive? Fanfreluche's whereabouts? Police have only the name of a suspect
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August 01, 1977

The Million-dollar Horse Heist

When Fanfreluche (above), a mare in foal to Secretariat, was stolen from her paddock, the mood at Claiborne Farm turned bluer than the grass. Motive? Fanfreluche's whereabouts? Police have only the name of a suspect

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Last week Claiborne suffered more ill luck when three other valuable mares were killed by lightning. They were Lie Low and Vagabonda, in foal to Nijinsky II and Riva Ridge respectively, and Polka Dot Veil, who was not in foal. The lightning also killed a Lie Low suckling, who was at his dam's side. Meanwhile, Lexington was playing host to Keeneland's big summer yearling sale amid tightened security arrangements and a lot of idle theorizing about the whos and whys of Fanfreluche's abduction.

"I think it was an inside job," said one leading breeder.

"To me, it looks like a bunch of amateurs," volunteered a blonde in a white pajama outfit.

"I heard the Mafia is involved," offered a bloodstock agent through the thick smoke of his imported cigar.

And a psychiatrist said, "Maybe the Martians got her."

None of these people knew that a warrant had just been issued for the arrest of the mysterious McCandless. An itinerant horseman whose last known address was Nashville, McCandless has been working around horses, mainly as a groom, since his release from the Marine Corps 10 years ago. He worked mostly at small tracks like Cahokia Downs in Illinois and Ellis Park near Henderson, Ky. He also held an owner's license in Nebraska in 1975 but it has lapsed. FBI agent Bob Pence said, "As far as we know, he was acting alone but we're not ruling out the possibility that others may be involved." Pence and other agents said that McCandless was recently seen in Texas but that he might be in Tennessee or Kentucky. They said they had no idea where the horse was.

Mrs. G. A. McCandless of Nashville, William Michael's mother, said she was questioned by FBI agents, who told her only that her son had been seen with a large amount of cash. She speculated that the FBI's interest in him might have something to do with the fact that he recently transported a mare owned by her father from Kentucky to Illinois. She had just paid $500 for the horse to be bred to a stallion. "I don't think Mike would do something like this," she said. "He would know that you can't do anything with a horse without the proper papers."

Early in the investigation reporters were told that Fanfreluche often aborts her foals and that she desperately needed a drug called Depo-provera to save her present foal. Police, no doubt, hoped that someone would request the drug of a vet or at a pharmacy, thus providing them with fresh leads. But the announcement also happened to be basically accurate. Fanfreluche lost a foal in 1972 and was barren in two recent years, and Claiborne did administer Depo-provera to her every three weeks. Fanfreluche was last treated with the medication at Claiborne on June 22. Right now, her coveted foal by Secretariat might be in serious trouble. For all anybody knows, the mare could be, too.

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