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When she was abducted from posh Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. last June 25 (SI, Aug. 1), the thoroughbred Fanfreluche became the most famous missing female since Patty Hearst. A $25,000 reward was offered for information on the whereabouts of the $500,000 mare in foal to Secretariat. That inspired a deluge of leads, tips and rumors that caused the FBI and the Kentucky state police to make inquiries in almost every state and several foreign countries. Everything was pursued, even a tip from a California psychic who claimed to have seen Fanfreluche in a vision "standing in a blue barn with a pile of horse manure out front."
While much of this was going on, Fanfreluche was living quietly and happily on a little farm near Tompkinsville, Ky., about 150 miles south of Claiborne. There she was known as "Brandy," and the farm's owner, Larry McPherson, treated her no differently from his pony, his quarter horse and his palomino, whose combined value was less than $600. McPherson, an apprentice steam-pipe fitter with the Tennessee Valley Authority, apparently found the mare one morning last summer standing in the road that runs past his house trailer. Never dreaming of her true identity—"You're always finding horses and cows in the road in our part of the country," says McPherson—he did the neighborly thing, which was to take her and keep her until the owner showed up to claim her. While he waited, McPherson let his friends and family ride Brandy around the "horse lot" on his three-acre farm. And he took such a liking to the mare that he turned down an offer of $200 for her.
"I just didn't feel right selling something that didn't belong to me," McPherson says, "so I just kept her and waited for the day when somebody would come claim her."
Somebody finally did—at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8. That's when an FBI agent and the state police, acting on a tip, converged on McPherson's farm. When he heard their story, McPherson says, "It liked to have knocked the feet out from under me." Fanfreluche was standing in a field, and the FBI man recognized her even at a distance. "I think some of our agents would know her in their sleep," FBI Special Agent Robert Pence says.
Sure enough, a check of the mare's lip tattoo showed that she was No. W 12997—Fanfreluche. Seth Hancock, president of Claiborne Farm, who had given up hope of finding the mare alive, was notified. He immediately set off in a van with farm manager John Sos-by for McPherson's farm, so far from Claiborne in so many ways.
"We didn't find the farm," says Hancock, "but the state police found us and led the way. We pulled up in the front yard and the people came out and said, 'Ol Brandy's down in the barn.' We went to this little old barn using a flashlight to find our way. Soon as we opened the door and shined the light on her, I could see the black spots on her coronet bands and the spot on her forehead that made me pretty sure it was her, but then John rolled up her lip and read her tattoo and I was sure. It was a great feeling."
Back at Claiborne, Fanfreluche was examined by veterinarian Walter Kaufmann. She has a shaggy winter coat and some scars on her legs, but otherwise seems none the worse for her months as a pleasure horse. Most important, Dr. Kaufmann said the foal in her was alive. She is due to deliver on Friday, Feb. 10, either at Claiborne or on the Canadian farm of her owner, Jean-Louis Levesque.
As an original member of the syndicate that bought Secretariat for a then-world-record $6.08 million in 1973, Levesque has the right to breed one mare to Secretariat every year. This season he sent Fanfreluche, a North American filly champion, to the chestnut stallion, and at the time of her abduction plans were being made to have her shipped back to Canada.
The theft took place while Hancock was in Lexington playing golf at the Idle Hour Country Club. The thieves simply drove a trailer into his front yard and took Fanfreluche from an adjacent paddock. At the time it seemed to be a smooth, professional job. Not only did the thieves know when Hancock would be gone, they also knew exactly how to get into the paddock and how to pick out the mare from the others in the 28.3-acre field.
The nagging question was why would anybody want to steal a mare in foal to the most famous stallion in the world? Surely, if the thieves tried to sell the mare or the foal, authorities would be after them instantly. The only halfway plausible theory was that the thieves planned to take Fanfreluche's Secretariat foal and use it as a "ringer." That is, substitute it for a slower, less elegantly bred horse at some out-of-the-way track in the hope of pulling off a gambling coup.