04/18/2002 11:00PM

Our Emblem's sudden success

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To sell, or not to sell. That is the question for Allen and Audrey Murray, the couple who caught lightning in a bottle last fall when they purchased a "disappointing" young stallion named Our Emblem in Kentucky and syndicated him to stand at their Murmur Farm in Darlington, Md.

Our Emblem right now is the hottest young sire in the nation, with two sons headed for the Kentucky Derby - War Emblem, winner of the Grade 2 Illinois Derby, and Private Emblem, winner of the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby. The 3-year-olds represent Our Emblem's second crop.

Offers have been arriving daily at Murmur, they say, each more tempting than the last. "We're praying we can keep Our Emblem in Maryland," said Audrey Murray. "We'd love to have the leading sire in Maryland."

But she also acknowledges that everything has its price.

It's the kind of dilemma that every regional stallion owner builds his dreams around. The Murrays bought Our Emblem directly from Claiborne Farm, paying cash for the handsome, impeccably bred son of Mr. Prospector and undefeated multiple Grade 1-winning champion Personal Ensign. Our Emblem, a full brother to two Grade 1 winners and himself an eight-time graded-placed winner of $366,013, had committed a cardinal sin among Kentucky stallions - failing to produce a big horse right off the bat.

Arriving at Murmur in October, Our Emblem found a lukewarm reception, at best. The Murrays set up a 40-share syndicate, at $7,500 a share, and began making phone calls.

"It was slow; selling shares was hard," Audrey Murray said. "People were afraid. They felt if Claiborne gave up on him, there must be something really wrong."

But the Murrays persevered, eventually selling shares to 15 different individuals, some of them going along basically out of loyalty to Murmur Farm.

Offered this season at an advertised stud fee of $4,000, Our Emblem had his services nearly doubled, to $7,500, after the Arkansas Derby.

"All of the $4,000 seasons were sold by that time, but a few of the shareholders had seasons they were willing to sell for $7,500," Audrey Murray said.

Seventy mares are booked to Our Emblem so far, and the Murrays intend to limit his book to 80.

If Our Emblem does follow a gold-paved path back to Kentucky, he won't be the first for the Murrays. They had a similar experience with Deerhound, a superbly bred son of Danzig who caught the attention of the entire racing world when his daughter Countess Diana won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes in 1997 and was voted the 2-year-old filly Eclipse Award. The Murrays syndicated Deerhound for $7,500 a share. When the deal was arranged to send him to Kentucky, those shares were worth $45,000 apiece.

"You spend your whole life working to develop a horse like this one," Allen Murray said at that time. "Then you can't resist the money, so you sell him. But you have mixed emotions about it."

Murmur Farm and its various equine occupants do indeed represent a lifetime of effort by the Murrays. Allen and Audrey bought their first horse, an $800 broodmare, in 1959, and gradually upgraded their stock and their facilities. Their present-day operation, situated on 133-acres overlooking the Susquehanna River in the northern part of the state, is a picturesque gem with gleaming white fences and a state-of-the-art, six-stall stallion barn.

Other stallions standing at Murmur in 2002 are:

o Crypto Star (by Cryptoclearance). Multiple graded stakes winner, $730,090. First crop races in 2003.

o Haymaker (by Two Punch). Multiple stakes winner. Sire of several good winners from first small crops to race.

o Root Boy (by Baederwood). Graded stakes winner. Overcame life-threatening injuries to stand at stud. Sire of stakes winners Karen's Lullaby, Sneaks.

o Wayne County (Ire) (by Sadler's Wells). World-class pedigree--as full brother to champion Carnegie (Ire), out of Detroit (Fr), horse of the year in France. First two crops (racing in 2000 and '01) highlighted by graded winner Sadler's Sarah.

o Yarrow Brae (by Deputy Minister). First foals race in 2002.