Gardaí are investigating a possible dissident republican criminal link to the theft of one of the country's top greyhounds, which was likened to the infamous IRA kidnapping of champion racehorse Shergar, sources said, writes David Raleigh.
Clares Rocket, tipped as a favourite for the 2017 English Derby with a prize of upwards €300,000, was stolen from Riverside Kennels, owned by respected Tipperary trainer Graham Holland, in Athassel Abbey, Golden.
Gardaí said Clares Rocket, aged two-an-half-year was stolen between 6pm last Sunday, and 10am, last Monday.
Sources indicating the dog's potential stud value was worth an estimated €1m, could not be confirmed.
Another source said, Clares Rocket, like all competition dogs, would have been tagged and microchipped, which may help determine the dog's whereabouts.
A number of sources in the sport, wishing to remain anonymous, described Clares Rocket as "one of the country's most elite" competitors.
One insider said: "That dog was second favourite to win the English Derby. He has broken track records in Ireland. He's one of the best dogs in the country, by a mile. He's definitely in the top three dogs in the country." "He's two and a half years old; In the prime of his racing career."
A Garda source revealed investigating officers were following "several lines of enquiry", which included one possible theory that dissident republican criminals may have been involved.
"It can't be ruled out. This is a shake down; it's what they do," they said.
"The people involved are out and out criminals. They stole the dog looking for (a ransom)," they added.
It's unknown if any ransom demand was yet made.
The source said: "It's the Shergar of greyhound racing, that's what it is. They just went in and took him. Luckily enough they didn't meet anyone in the kennels. They must have known where he was in the kennels. You'd have to know what your looking for."
An official statement issued by a spokesperson at the Garda Press Office said. "Gardaí are investigating the theft of an animal from a premises in Athassel Abbey, Golden, Co Tipperary. The theft occurred some time between 6pm Sunday, 4th December, and 10am Monday, 5th December. Gardaí in Tipperary are appealing for anyone with information to contact them."
Clares Rocket, which has won €53,000 in prize money, is a previous winner of the Champion Stakes and Produce Stakes.
The theft of the dog was likened to the IRA kidnapping of champion racehorse Shergar from Ballymany Stud in Kildare, on February 8, 1983.
On his debut Shergar won the Epsom Derby, before adding victories in the Irish Derby and the King George.
Having covered 35 mares in his first season in stud, at fees up to £80,000 a time, Shergar was syndicated for £10m.
His body was never recovered.
A Limerick syndicate, which owns Clares Rocket, could not be reached for comment.