Derek Thompson, or ‘Tommo’, as he likes to call himself, is a veteran television and radio presenter, commentator and after dinner speaker. Originally from Middlesbrough in North East England, Thompson, who turns 70 in July, 2020, began broadcasting on local radio as a teenager, before joining BBC Radio Sport in 1972 and ITV Sport in 1981. Bizarrely, two years later, in February, 1983, Thompson was involved, along with ITV colleague John Oaksey and Sun journalist Peter Campling, in negotations for the release of the 1981 Derby winner, Shergar, who had been kidnapped from the Ballymany Stud in Co. Kildare.
In 1985, Thompson joined Channel 4 Racing, which had begun broadcasting horse racing coverage in Britain the previous March. He continued to to ply his trade as a presenter and commentator until January, 2013, when he was dropped from the roster, along with the late John McCririck, when IMG Sports Media took over the production of Channel 4 Racing. Later that year, Thompson reported on the Cheltenham Festival for BBC Radio Five Live. Nowadays, he works as a studio presenterer on Sky Sports Racing, formerly At The Races, and makes regular appearances on Talksport radio. On one, especially cringeworthy, occasion, Thompson cut to At The Races colleague Robert Cooper, saying ‘Oh, you’ve been joined by a beautiful lady’, only for a baffled Cooper to reply, ‘It’s a man actually, Derek’.
The record for the widest winning margin in the history of the Derby is still held by Shergar, who cantered home ten lengths ahead of his nearest rival, Glint Of Gold, in 1981. Interestingly, though, while Shergar was visually highly impressive, his winning time of 2 minutes 44.21 seconds was the slowest since Airborne covered the mile-and-a-half Derby Course in 2 minutes 44.6 seconds, on soft going, in 1946.
Shergar was, of course, trained by Michael Stoute; as Sir Michael Stoute, following his knighthood for services to tourism in his native Barbados in 1998, he also saddled the 2010 Derby winner, Workforce, who recorded the fastest winning time in the history of the Epsom Classic. Despite being one of the least experienced horses in the field, the twice-raced son of King’s Best tackled the long-time leader At First Sight with just over a furlong to run and soon went clear, staying on well in the closing stages to win by seven lengths. On the prevailing good to firm going, his winning time of 2 minutes 31.33 seconds eclipsed the previous course record of 2 minutes 32.31 seconds, set by Cartier Champion Three-year-old Colt, Lammtarra, in 1995.
Having won the Derby by 10 lengths – still the widest winning margin in the history of the race – in 1981, Shergar was, for a time, the most celebrated racehorse in the world. Following his last race, in the St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster, later that year, he was retired to Ballymany Stud, in Co. Kildare, Ireland, where he was syndicated for £10 million.
However, less than two years later, on a murky night in February, 1983, Shergar was abducted by a gang of masked gunmen, believed to belong to the Irish Republic Army (IRA), and never seen again. Ransom negotiations – conducted, bizarrely, by British horse racing journalist Derek Thompson – followed, but ended abruptly with an anonymous, but coded, message that Shergar had died ‘in an accident’.
Exactly what happened to Shergar remains an abiding mystery. He may well have died, as suggested by more than one former IRA member, in a hail of machine gun bullets in a stable at a remote farm near the town of Ballinamore in Co. Leitrim – former ‘bandit country’ – near the border with Northern Ireland, after becoming distressed by his new surroundings. However, the IRA has never officially claimed responsibility for his disappearance, his kidnappers have never been officially identified and his remains have never been found.