05/22/2002 11:00PM

Goodbye, Maryland


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The impact of War Emblem's victory in the Preakness is sending ripples throughout racing and breeding. Beyond the immediate concerns of the Triple Crown, national attention, and bonuses, practically every horse associated with War Emblem and his family is suddenly looking much more significant and valuable.

No horse's fortunes have altered more than those of War Emblem's sire, Our Emblem. Sold into exile from the Bluegrass less than a year ago, the stallion is the hottest property on the bloodstock market at the moment. He stood his first season at the Murmur Farm of Audrey and Allen Murray this year and was advertised at $4,000 live foal. In the wake of his son's victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, offers on him have come pouring in, but all have been refused.

"The offers keep going up, and $6.5 million is the highest yet," Audrey Murray said. "It's pretty amazing, but we're telling them all we'd like to wait till after the Belmont. We think his value will soar after that."

Part of the reason the tide has turned so quickly for Our Emblem is his bloodlines. A marvelously pedigreed horse bred and raced by the Phipps family, Our Emblem is by Mr. Prospector and out of the unbeaten champion mare Personal Ensign.

By a champion sire and out of a champion mare who has been a great producer - horses don't come with better parents. The Phippses used this mating repeatedly with excellent results. From this cross, Personal Ensign produced two of her three Grade 1 stakes winners, Miner's Mark and Traditionally, and two stakes-placed horses, Our Emblem and Proud and True.

Furthermore, Our Emblem was a very good horse, though he was only stakes placed. In Grade 1 races alone, he ran second in the Carter and was third in the Vosburgh and Metropolitan Handicap. Most horses who actually win a graded stakes are nowhere as talented as Our Emblem on his best form.

Because of his ability and distinguished relations, Our Emblem went to stud at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky with solid expectations that he might become another good sire by Mr. Prospector.

Those expectations were not quickly realized, however, and after his first crop produced no significant racers at 2 or 3, breeders would not touch the horse. Obviously, the reaction to the first crop was a bit hasty, as the stallion's second crop includes three new graded stakes winners in the past 60 days.

Last fall, when nobody wanted to breed to him, the Murrays heard that Our Emblem could be bought. "We called Claiborne," Audrey Murray said, "found out he was available and the price, drove down to look at him, and bought him." Although Murray declined to reveal the price, it almost certainly was not huge, with some insiders estimating the sum at $200,000 to $250,000.

The Murrays were attracted to Our Emblem, Murray said, "because of his breeding, and he had a race record. Both were excellent. We thought he'd do well in Maryland. He had a lot of foals coming along in future crops, and we hoped one of them would hit. It looks like three of them have."

The stallion had shown some preliminary signs of success from his stock earlier this year. But, Murray said, "when War Emblem won the Illinois Derby, he really booked full." Our Emblem has 95 mares in this year's book, although it is almost certainly the one and only group of mares he will cover in Maryland. The demand to purchase him will almost certainly be too great.

"A lot of people want us to keep him in Maryland and re-syndicate him. That's a nice thought, but there's always a price you can't refuse," Murray said, "and Our Emblem is probably going to be too expensive to stay here."

Currently, the largest stud fee in the state is $25,000, and if the valuation on Our Emblem swells to perhaps $10 million, his stud fee would need to be about double that figure to support the price for sale or re-syndication.

Of War Emblem's other relatives, his dam, Sweetest Lady, is dead. A good winner by Lord at War, Sweetest Lady produced a stakes-placed filly, Pretty Gale, as her second foal, and War Emblem is her third offspring. The mare's last living foal is the 2-year-old filly My Sweet Heart, by You and I.