Murrays' passion makes Murmur Farm a success

ON HORSE RACING

Horse Racing

January 13, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Next to Allen Murray's senior picture in the 1951 Havre de Grace High School yearbook were the words: Calumet Farm North.

That was Murray's ambition a half century ago, to operate a horse farm like the famed Calumet nursery in Kentucky.

Today, Allen and his wife, Audrey, 66, will entertain as many as 250 guests at their picturesque Murmur Farm in Darlington. The occasion is a showing of their seven stallions, including exciting newcomers Disco Rico and Our Emblem.

From humble beginnings in the late 1950s, when they hauled horses in a converted beer truck, the Murrays have built Murmur into one of Maryland's leading horse farms.

They have succeeded the old-fashioned way: working hard at something they loved.

"What success we've had is because we like it so much," says Allen, 68. "We're still pretty much a mom-and-pop outfit. Audrey and I are still hands-on nearly every day of the year."

The Murrays bought their first mare in 1957 or '58 and their first farm in 1961 near Aberdeen. They had a riding horse, a yearling, a broodmare and two steers.

Allen worked 38 years for the Department of the Army and invested in savings bonds, and Audrey ran the farm. In 1988, Allen retired, and their hard work and savings culminated in the purchase of Murmur Farm, 133 acres in Harford County overlooking the Susquehanna River.

Their most successful stallion, Norquestor, died unexpectedly in 1999. That was two years after they had sold Deerhound, sire of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Countess Diana. They had to rebuild.

Their lineup offers what Allen describes as a mixed bag of sprinters and distance pedigrees. Crypto Star won the Arkansas and Louisiana derbies. Wayne County is a son of Sadler's Wells, the world's leading sire. Yarrow Brae is a son of Deputy Minister, who stands in Kentucky for $150,000.

And breeders today will meet Disco Rico and Our Emblem, the former a popular Maryland sprinter, the latter a royally bred sire from Kentucky.

Our Emblem is the son of Mr. Prospector and the undefeated champion and top broodmare Personal Ensign. Now 11, Our Emblem entered stud in 1997. He stood last year at Claiborne Farm for $7,500. He will stand this year at Murmur for $4,000.

Disco Rico, the blazing sprinter, broke a bone in his left foreleg in October and retired from racing. The son of Citidancer was one of Maryland's most popular racehorses. The Murrays hope he will become one of Maryland's most popular sires. Now 5, Disco Rico will stand for $4,000.

Despite the competitive nature of the breeding industry, the Murrays have endured as one of the hardest-working and most-liked couples in the business.

"They are really great people," says Tim Capps, former head of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "I think people find the Murrays to be very ethical and good folks to work with. I don't think anybody cares about the breeding program in Maryland more than Allen does. He's passionate about it."

"It's not any tougher," Allen says of the passing years. "I'm just more sore. Somebody asked the other day when we're going to retire. Never."

A show worth catching

"Thanks for watching `Today at the Races.' And good luck."

Those are Dave Rodman's parting words as he signs off his entertaining and informative show every race day at Laurel Park.

Rodman, the track announcer, and Mike Gathagan, director of broadcasting and communications for the Maryland Jockey Club, conceived the in-house TV show last fall.

It began Sept. 15 on Saturdays and expanded Oct. 17 to every race day. Starting about noon and running about 15 minutes, "Today at the Races" provides news and Rodman's daily selections.

If you haven't been paying attention, then you don't know what you're missing. Rodman might be the best race caller in the country. He might be one of the best handicappers, as well.

For four straight race days, Sunday through Friday, Rodman's long shot of the day came in.

On Sunday, Comet Surprise won the sixth race, paying $27.20. On Wednesday, Craft Getaway won the eighth, paying $26.60. On Thursday, Jump N' Jive won the fifth, paying $30.80. On Friday, Bob Shanklin won the sixth, paying $13.80.

Et cetera

Burning Roma spent last winter in Tampa, Fla., with his owner, Harold Queen, and when he returned to Tony Dutrow's barn at Laurel Park in the spring, he was not a relaxed horse.

Wanting to avoid a repeat of that, Dutrow and Queen agreed to send the stakes-winning 4-year-old to Bill Mott at South Florida's Payson Park.

Burning Roma arrived at peaceful Payson in December. Mott will train him, maybe even race him, and then send him back to Laurel at the end of March "as close to a fresh horse as possible," Dutrow says.

Dutrow plans on nominating Saratoga Blues to the Triple Crown series. A son of Twining, Saratoga Blues is 2-for-2 and might race Saturday in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel.

Ramon Dominguez, the winningest jockey in 2001, will begin serving a seven-day suspension Wednesday for careless riding in October. He will return Jan. 25. Dominguez won 12 races in the first eight racing days of 2002.

Monarchos, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby, is slated to race for the first time since June in the Grade I Donn Handicap Feb. 9 at Gulfstream Park. Monarchos was sidelined with a hairline fracture in a knee.

Now that planning for a possible match race between Xtra Heat and Hallowed Dreams at the Fair Grounds has ceased, Xtra Heat will be pointed toward the Barbara Fritchie Handicap on Feb. 16 at Laurel and then the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 23 in the United Arab Emirates.

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