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ROME (Reuters) - A prize-winning racehorse dubbed the "Blonde Bombshell" and a thoroughbred colt were stolen from their stables in Italy on Tuesday, in a blow for an industry reeling from years of crisis.
The abduction of the chestnut mare, called Unicka, and the colt, named Vampire Dany, was discovered by the horses' trainer at the Wave stables near Pisa, northern Italy, when he went to feed them on Tuesday morning, the stables said in a statement.
"The entire stables is protected by a security system which was turned on as normal," the stables said. "This make us think the heist was carefully planned by experts in the equine world."
Italian media have speculated that the thieves plan to demand a ransom, as the animals are registered, making it harder to sell them on the black market.
Both have already distinguished themselves in trotting, one of Italy's biggest horse-racing businesses. Unicka won both Italy's Trotting Derby and Orsi Mangelli Grand Prize in 2016.
Vampire Dany is descended from superstar racer Varenne, who was so popular in the early 2000s that commentators joked he should be named foreign minister.
Economic crisis and competition from other kinds of gambling have hit Italian horse racing hard in recent years, with gambling revenue falling by three quarters from 2009 to about 500 million euros in 2014, agriculture ministry data show.
"To steal Unicka and Vampire Dany is to deal a death blow to the entire horse-racing industry, which had found hope and confidence again thanks to these horses," said Edoardo Fanucci, a deputy from the Democratic Party.
In trotting races, the jockey is pulled along in a two-wheeled buggy as the animal tears around the course as fast as it can possibly trot without breaking into a gallop.
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Dominic Evans