11/11/2015 3:45PM

Pandolfo: Murray Brown is a harness racing lifer

Ellen Harvey/USTA
Murray Brown has been the public relations director for Hanover Shoe Farms since 1967.

Growing up in Montreal, Murray Brown was one of the few boys who did not want to be a hockey player.

"I loved harness racing. I became particularly interested in the horses’ pedigrees, which I studied. Before long, I became known as a breeding guru," Brown said.

Few people network better than Murray Brown. He's been the Public Relations Director for Hanover Shoe Farms since 1967. As he made his way up to that position, Brown met some of the most influential people in the history of the sport.

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"I met Alan Leavitt of Lana Lobell, who introduced me to people in the industry,” said Brown. “Then out of the blue, I got a call from Lawrence Sheppard of Hanover Farms. He didn't think I was ready, but he introduced me to Bowman Brown, who was the President of the Harness Horse magazine and General Manager of the Standardbred Horse Sales. I worked for him for about six months. Then I was hired by Hanover in 1967. It was my dream job."

Hanover Farms was started by Harper Sheppard and Clinton Myers, who owned the Hanover Shoe Company. But it was Lawrence Sheppard, a junior partner in the Hanover Shoe Company, whose drive and vision transformed Hanover Farms into an iconic harness racing brand. For decades, when a racing fan sees that a horse was bred at Hanover Farms, you know the horse is well bred.  Today, despite the overall decline in the sport of harness racing, Hanover Farms is still going strong. Eleven stallions stand at Hanover including the great pacer Somebeachsomewhere and trotter Cantab Hall.

"We have about 400 active broodmares on the property," Brown said. "We also have 125 retired mares. These mares served us and the industry well over the years and we've given them a home."

And what a beautiful home it is. Hanover Farms in Hanover, Pennsylvania comprises over 3,000 acres.  

Besides his P.R. work, Brown was V.P. and General Manager of the Standardbred Sale for 37 years and is still active as a sale consultant.

"Unfortunately I didn't know Mr. Sheppard that long," Brown said. "He passed away in 1968. John Simpson took over the management of the farm and he became my mentor."

Hanover Farms conducts the famous Harrisburg Sale which takes place each fall. This year's sale ran from November 2-6.  Just prior to the start it was announced that Pennsylvania had a problem with the funding of racing, which supposedly is being settled. But it hurt the sale. Horses from Pennsylvania sires were down about 12% which brought the overall average yearling price down 6.7% from last year.

"Despite the recent situation, Pennsylvania remains a great place to race harness horses," Brown said. "Besides the lucrative sire stakes program, the harness tracks have increased purses for 2-year-olds. You have the stallion series, the fair circuit, overnight racing. It's a good situation for people who invest in yearlings."

Brown also offered some advice for those considering purchasing an interest in a horse.

"The first thing you should do is establish relationships,” said Brown. “Do your homework. It's important to find a trainer that you get along with and trust. For most people, claiming a horse or two is probably a good place to start—once you've found a trainer. But if you want to race young horses, go into partnerships. That's what I do. I purchased a quarter interest of a horse at the Harrisburg sale. With partnerships you get the excitement of race horse ownership without having to take a big risk."

Showplace Farms, a large training center in New Jersey, closed down this summer after over four decades of business. Perretti Farms closed their 1,000 acre New Jersey-based breeding farm in 2013. How are all of these negatives affecting Hanover?

"It doesn't help. Any weakness in the breeding industry or the industry in general is a negative,” said Brown. “But at Hanover, our business is good. We've been at this since 1926 and I think Hanover will be breeding and selling horses for a long time to come. Harness racing is doing well in Ohio and Indiana. We get buyers from all over."

This past July, the United States Trotting Association gathered 40 key people in the industry at a summit in Ohio. The main goal was to discuss declining foal crops and new ways to recruit owners. Brown stirred the pot a bit when he said, "the ultimate problem is our product sucks."

Overall, people would likely agree that the racing at the Meadowlands, Hoosier, and most two turn tracks is good, but many of the half mile and five eighth tracks just have too many wire to wire winners and short payoffs.

"I totally agree," Brown said. "I think Yonkers has done a good job with their mile and a quarter races that are simulcast to France. To be honest, as much as I love this sport, I don't have much of a desire to watch the races at some of these tracks. The tracks may have to make changes, try something different."

With the Meadowlands committed to only two nights of racing a week in 2016, I asked Brown what he thought about the situation.

"Well, everyone would like to see them race more but it's a business decision and you have to understand that,” said Brown. “I'm surprised New Jersey hasn't put a casino at the Meadowlands. I personally think it would be hugely successful. It's a perfect location. If they get a casino, I think the Meadowlands would have a very strong harness racing product."

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.

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