Murrays enjoy Chip off old block


March 02, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Audrey and Allen Murray plunked down $800 for a pregnant broodmare in late 1954 -- before they were even married. The mare, Rip Fleet, gave birth to a foal the Murrays sold as a yearling for $4,500.

Nice return. Easy business.

In business now for 43 years -- their Murmur Farm near Darlington in Harford County comprises 133 acres -- the Murrays quickly learned what nearly every horse breeder knows:

Not always nice return. No easy business.

But the Murrays persevered. And now in their early 60s, still working as hard as ever, they are enjoying the fruits of their labor. One gorgeous fruit is a 4-year-old filly named Chip, owned by Carolyn Hine and trained by her husband, Sonny, at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

Foaled and raised by the Murrays, Chip accomplished the rare feat of winning three stakes during the 2 1/2 -month Gulfstream meet.

After her victory one week ago in the $200,000 Rampart Handicap, she cracked the Daily Racing Form Top 40 as the 40th best horse in North America. With paychecks this year totaling $225,000, she is No. 2 on the 1997 earnings list -- behind Victory Speech's $300,000.

From his barn Friday at Gulfstream Park, Sonny Hine had a good chuckle over his wife's Chip.

"I can't believe Carolyn's got two horses in the Top 40," he said. "That's scary."

The other, of course, is Skip Away, ranked No. 1.

Sonny Hine trained Chip's sire, Norquestor, and Chip's dam, Big Pride, as well as Big Pride's sire and dam, Bet Big and Alto Pride.

Norquestor and Big Pride reside at Murmur Farm.

The Murrays bought Norquestor in 1990. The next year the Hines and Scott Savin, the owners of Big Pride, gave the mare to the Murrays in return for two of her foals by Norquestor.

The first was Chip. She has won eight races in 13 starts.

"It turned out to be a great deal for everybody," Allen Murray said.

Chip is the best horse to graduate to the racetrack from Murmur Farm. And that's saying something because 50 to 75 foals are born there every year.

The Murrays stand seven stallions, who annually breed 250 to 300 mares. Last fall they added the brilliantly bred Wayne County. His sire is Sadler's Wells, Europe's leading stallion, and his dam is Detroit, France's 3-year-old champion and winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The Murrays have come a long way since their initial $800 investment. They used the money from the sale of that first yearling for a down payment on a 40-acre farm in Aberdeen. Then they bought a neighboring 25-acre farm. Finally, in 1988, they bought their current spread.

"The only way we were able to make it work was because we had three children who worked for free," Allen Murray said. "That's the bottom line."

And while maintaining the farm he worked 38 years as an engineer for the Department of the Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. He retired in 1989.

"We started out with no money," Murray said. "But in the horse business we've met the nicest people. And the horses are so glamorous. It's such a thrill seeing a horse you bred win a race."

And then he said the words that bolster nearly everyone in the business: "I've always been a big dreamer."

Run for roses starts now

As the Mud Routes and Boston Harbors fall by the wayside on this fascinating quest called the Kentucky Derby, other horses will rise from the unknown to take their place. One such horse, little-known up to now, is Oak Level.

He makes his fourth start -- and second this year -- in today's eighth race at Gulfstream Park. Ridden by Pat Day and trained by David Carroll, this 3-year-old Woodman colt has been pointed toward this 1 1/16-mile race with an eye toward the Kentucky Derby.

Carroll, 37, an Irishman who worked for trainers Peter Vestal and Shug McGaughey, believes that Oak Level is the horse that may bring him a measure of fame and fortune.

In his last race, he ran third to Pulpit, the sport's new superstar.

"We weren't in there to win that race," Carroll said. "We just

needed a race to get him going. We were more concerned with his second race.

"This is the one that will tell us which direction to go with him. He's a big, kind of immature horse. I think in May, June and July you're going to see him at his best."

But watch out for Oak Level today -- for what it's worth.

And the winners are

The Maryland Horse Breeders Association has announced its Maryland-bred champions of 1996:

Cigar, Horse of the Year and champion older male; Smoke Glacken, champion 2-year-old male; Assault John, champion 2-year-old filly; Clash By Night, champion 3-year-old male; Clamorosa, champion 3-year-old filly; Urbane, champion older female; Awad, champion turf runner, and Circuit Bar, champion steeplechaser.

What's in a name?

Thanks to the Harness Racing Communications newsletter for this. Informing patrons at Monticello Raceway of changes in a recent program, the track announcer, Howard Oil, said: "Hypochondriac, scratched sick."

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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