04/19/2009 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Lawrence Murray


The days of training exclusively for an owner-breeder are more and more becoming a thing of the past in Thoroughbred racing, but for trainer Lawrence Murray and owner-breeders Sondra and Howard Bender it is all the Maryland team has known since 1988.

"The saying goes, one guy used to own 40 and now 40 guys own one," said Murray, 56, who generally maintains a string of about 20 horses at Laurel Park, while also overseeing the Benders' Glade Valley Farms Inc. in Frederick, Md. "Many of the old-time outfits have all but disappeared, and it has changed the game because it seems many owners are now, unfortunately, less likely to give a horse time. But, the Benders are phenomenal people to train for - they give me a free hand to do a lot of things."

Murray's duties, far different than most trainers, aside from training have included managing stallions, planning matings, and delivering foals.

"I liken it to owning a fantasy football team," he said. "You have your players and try to maximize what they call can do. It's very rewarding and a lot of fun. The goal, of course, is to get those Saturday afternoon horses and it's always great to watch them win.

"We keep a wider perspective, perhaps, compared to many trainers, because I am absolutely responsible for the whole bottom line on the horse from start to finish. I don't want to make mistakes by rushing one and ruining a career."

With a chuckle, Murray added, "Plus, with much of the stock, if I screw something up I have to go back to the farm and answer to the horse's mom."

Murray's barn is off to a nice start in 2009 with a record of 7 for 30, and on the heels of an up year in 2008 (25 for 117, 21 percent, $2.11 return on investment). Murray's overall numbers with horses second-time back from layoffs seem to highlight his patient approach.

"You have your good years and bad years, especially with the type of operation we have," said Murray, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Bellerose, N.Y., just a few furlongs from Belmont Park. "In 2002, we won something like 13 stakes races but La Reine's Terms accounted for five of them. We've raced a lot of horses from the same families, and sometimes you just have to ride the cycle or infuse some new blood."

The Benders generally have about 10 to 12 juveniles each year to send to Murray at the track, and have recently bought a couple of broodmares to keep the operation fueled. Murray pointed out one is a half-sister to last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman.

La Reine's Terms is a great illustration of how the big picture can come together in the best fashion.

"I'll have to write a book on La Reine's Terms one day," Murray said. "He broke his neck as a yearling and the vets had okayed him to be put down and that it would be cleared by insurance and all. But, he just had a lot of fight, we didn't want to put him down, and he just got better and better. We went all over with him, had a lot of thrills, and now stand him at stud."

La Reine's Terms made his debut as a 3-year-old, raced at 10, and retired with 16 wins from 40 starts with earnings of more than $800,000. Three times in his career, he returned from layoffs of one year or longer and won his final start in stakes company off a one-year absence. From ages 7 through 10, he won 7 of 11 races and made all but one of those starts at the stakes level.

With La Reine's Terms retired since 2005, Foufa's Warrior, a Grade 3 winner of more than $540,000, is now the barn's elder statesman.

"We've had five stakes winners out of his dam, Foufa, a nice Storm Bird mare," Murray said. "He's 9 now and didn't race last year, but he's breezing now and looks like he wants to go this year."

Access Fee, a dead-heat winner in stakes company earlier this month, and Puskita, a stakes-placed filly, are a pair of 4-year-old "young guns" for the barn.

"Access Fee is a nice filly," Murray said. "She's very fast and a lot of fun to watch. Puskita was second to Sweet Hope last year at Delaware, and she's a nice filly, as well."