05/20/2002 11:00PM

Murmur of the Maryland heart


BALTIMORE - When War Emblem and Magic Weisner finished one-two Saturday in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, it meant sports fans across the country could look forward to War Emblem's pursuit of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes on June 8 at Belmont Park.

Closer to home, it also meant that Audrey and Allen Murray, owners of Our Emblem, the sire of War Emblem, and Nancy Alberts, breeder, owner, and trainer of Magic Weisner, continued on their magic carpet ride in Maryland.

"Oh my gosh, it's unbelievable," Audrey Murray said Sunday. "It's exciting, very exciting. It's like a dream."

The Murrays bought Our Emblem last fall from Claiborne Farm after the royally bred sire had failed to catch fire in Kentucky. Since the ink dried on the contract, he hasn't stopped smoking for the Murrays.

They bought their first mare in the late 1950's and their first farm in 1961. In 1988, they bought picturesque Murmur Farm in Darlington. A hardworking couple that has experienced the ups and downs of the business, the Murrays, both in their 60's, took a chance buying Our Emblem.

They have declined to say what they paid for him, but after one of his sons, Private Emblem, won the Arkansas Derby, and another of his sons, War Emblem, won the Illinois Derby and Kentucky Derby, and after other sons and daughters began winning at various racetracks, the Murrays turned down $4.5 million for Our Emblem.

Now that War Emblem also has captured the Preakness and could become the 12th Triple Crown winner in history, Our Emblem's value has soared again. How much would he be worth if War Emblem won the Belmont?

"I don't have any idea," Audrey said.

But the Murrays have decided to wait to find out.

"We've had a lot of interest, but we have told people we don't want to do anything until after the Belmont," Audrey said.

The Murrays watched the Preakness from box seats at Pimlico, then attended a Preakness party at Katy Voss and Bob Manfuso's farm in Howard County. Maryland breeders have begun exploring the possibility of trying to syndicate Our Emblem - sell shares in him - in an effort to keep him here.

"I hate to see this horse leave Maryland," Audrey said. "It's such fun having the leading sire in the country."

Because of War Emblem's earnings of $2.9 million, Our Emblem leads the country's sires in progeny earnings. Also Saturday, September Secret, a 3-year-old filly sired by Our Emblem, won the Grade 3 Railbird Stakes at Hollywood Park by four lengths.

"It goes on and on," Audrey said. "Now, it's off to the Belmont."

Whether it's off to the Belmont for Magic Weisner remains to be seen. Alberts said she wants to make sure her gelding came out of the Preakness in good shape, although early signs look good.

"He ate his dinner and ate his breakfast," Alberts said Sunday. "He's tired. That's the most tired I've ever seen him. But up to now he's won his races so easily. I'm tired, too."

Alberts, 56, attended the Preakness with several jubilant relatives - son Will, sisters Wilma, Shirley, and Linda, and brother David - and friends. They gathered at Alberts's home in Jessup afterward and talked until midnight.

"My son's jumping around, and my family's so proud of me," Alberts said. "I'm just tickled pink."

She said she had to talk with Richard Migliore, who rode the gelding in the Preakness, and watch Magic Weisner for several days before deciding about the Belmont. He is the only horse she currently has in training, although she has three nearly ready to return to the track.

Magic Weisner earned $200,000 for his late-charging second-place finish in the Preakness at 45-1. That was by far the largest payday in Alberts's three-decade-long career with horses.

"I have a sincere love for my horses," Alberts said. "I'm not in it for fame."

Like the Murrays, Alberts is well liked throughout the local horse community. Longtime Pimlico trainer Richard Small seemed almost as happy yesterday for Alberts as Alberts was for herself.

"I got the biggest kick out of that," Small kept saying over and over. "I saw a horse coming, and I said: 'Who's that horse? It's Nancy's horse!' What a game. This is what the whole thing's supposed to be about. I've never heard anybody say anything bad about Nancy in my life."

(c) 2002, The Baltimore Sun