Edited version of article published in May 11 issue of The Blood-Horse
Few stallions in recent memory have enjoyed more of an upswing in their reputation in such a short span as Our Emblem.Eleven-year-old Our Emblem, who stood his first four seasons at the Hancock family's Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky., without much fanfare, caught fire after being sold and moved last fall to the Murray family's Murmur Farm near Darlington, Md. On May 4, Our Emblem's name was added to the list of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) sires when his second-crop son, War Emblem, captured the Run for the Roses at 20-1 for Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp. War Emblem added to and his sire's growing resume with a victory in the Preakness Stakes on May 18, the same day that September Secret, a daughter of Our Emblem, won the Railbird Stakes (gr. III) at Hollywood Park."The phone has been ringing off the wall continuously since right after he crossed the finish line," said Audrey Murray, who owns Murmur Farm with her husband, E. Allen Murray Jr., of War Emblem's Derby victory. "People keep calling congratulating us and with offers for Our Emblem." Our Emblem's recent upswing contrasts sharply with the lengthy success enjoyed by the speed-favoring Raise a Native sire line in the Churchill classic. Since Raise a Native's second-crop son, Majestic Prince, won the 1969 Derby, the line has been represented by 11 additional Derby winners. Last year's Derby winner, Monarchos, traced back to Majestic Prince, and the runner-up, Invisible Ink, went back to another Raise a Native son, Mr. Prospector, through the latter's son and grandson, Gulch and Thunder Gulch, respectively. Inasmuch as Raise a Native plays the role of godfather, Mr. Prospector has carved out a branch of the family all his own. Starting with grandson Unbridled in 1990, Mr. Prospector has been represented by male-line Derby winners Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996), Real Quiet (1998), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), and now grandson War Emblem (page 2767). Underlining Mr. Prospector's prowess is the fact that this year's runner-up, Proud Citizen, is by Mr. Prospector's son Gone West. Famous Folks
As a son of Mr. Prospector, Our Emblem was meant to be a star. And with unbeaten champion Personal Ensign as his dam, he had superstar potential.
Our Emblem raced as a homebred for Ogden Phipps, who died April 22 at age 93. A prominent breeder/owner for several decades, Phipps bred a number of Our Emblem's ancestors, including Personal Ensign and her dam, Grecian Banner, both of whom were honored with the title Kentucky Broodmare of the Year. Phipps earned Eclipse Awards as outstanding owner in 1988-89 and as top breeder in 1988. Our Emblem raced four years for trainer Claude R. "Shug" McGaughey. Assistant Buzz Tenney remembered Our Emblem as a horse with a mind of his own.
"He was unwilling to load in the gate even though we had spent plenty of time schooling him," he said. "So we had to load him backwards, and he did that perfectly. "He was a compact horse, but not a squatty one. Racing wise, he was a come-from-behind sprinter." Our Emblem never won a stakes in four seasons of racing, but placed often enough in graded events to earn a respectable career total of $366,013. He missed winning the 1995 Carter Handicap (gr. I) by a nose in a runner-up effort and later that year finished a head behind the winner while third in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I). Our Emblem also placed in that year's Tom Fool Stakes (gr. II) and the Metropolitan (gr. I), Forego (gr. II), and Westchester (gr. III) Handicaps. The following year, he ran third in two graded stakes and was retired in late summer with five wins from 27 starts. Our Emblem entered stud for a syndicate at Claiborne in 1997. His pedigree and his Claiborne connection ensured that he would be sufficiently patronized and the fact that he was a full brother to grade I winner Miner's Mark and a half-brother to four-time grade I winner My Flag made him all the more appealing. He started out at $10,000. Our Emblem averaged $88,375 with his first weanlings and $57,619 with his first yearlings. As runners, only three first-crop members won as 2-year-olds in 2000, and his fee for 2001 slipped to $7,500. By that fall, Our Emblem was represented by only a single stakes winner, and Claiborne was looking for a buyer. A friend notified the Murrays that Our Emblem was for sale. The couple were aware of his poor sire record, but loved his pedigree and felt that he had a chance for a big upswing. They bought him privately and sold shares in him to their clients at $7,500 each. It wasn't long before the Murrays could find comfort in their purchase. Two of Our Emblem's sons, Private Emblem and Ourbestfriend Mark, each won a stakes in January. Private Emblem took the Black Gold Handicap at Fair Grounds and Ourbestfriend Mark was a stakes winner in Panama. In early March, Private Emblem captured the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. But it wasn't until April that things started heating up. War Emblem became his sire's first graded stakes winner by taking the April 6 Illinois Derby (gr. II). After that, the Murrays were deluged with phone calls from breeders. Our Emblem's fee was upped to $7,500, and his book restricted to either stakes winners and/or stakes producers. The icing on the cake came when Private Emblem captured the April 13 Arkansas Derby (gr. II) for his third consecutive stakes win. Our Emblem, with a pair of legitimate Kentucky Derby starters in a wide-open field, was the talk of breeding circles. Unfortunately for Private Emblem's connections, he ran 14th in the Kentucky Derby. Our Emblem's book is now closed at 95 mares. "There isn't a question of raising his stud fee this year because we're not accepting any more mares, even though he is very fertile," Murray said. "They're either in at $4,000 or $7,500." Our Emblem's success raises the question of whether his former owners gave up too soon on him. After all, his oldest foals are only 4-year-olds. For Claiborne president Seth Hancock, the decision to sell Our Emblem was all business and a satisfied customer is good for business. "I've got no regrets," he said. "We sold Polish Navy to Japanese breeders, then Sea Hero won the (1993) Kentucky Derby. The last I looked, he hasn't set the woods on fire." The Murrays once were on the opposite end of a memorable stallion move. They stood Danzig's son Deerhound, but he was moved to Central Kentucky once his second-crop daughter, Countess Diana, got hot the summer of 1997. Countess Diana was voted champion 2-year-old that year. Fully aware of how valuable Our Emblem has become, the Murrays and their partners face the agonizing decision of whether to keep or sell him.
We've got to sit down and regroup once the phone stops ringing," Murray said.
Like many Central Kentucky horsemen, Charles Nuckols Jr. was well aware of Our Emblem's genetic goldmine when the horse entered stud. So when it came time to pick a stallion for the Lord At War mare Sweetest Lady for the 1998 breeding season, he figured Our Emblem fit the bill. As for Sweetest Lady, she had won five of 16 races and her average winning distance was a little more than a mile. "There is no better bred horse in the world than Our Emblem, being by Mr. Prospector out of Personal Ensign," Nuckols said. "He was a good miler and most good milers make good sires. The mare is by Lord At War, and I knew he was a good sound horse. The Pruner (sire of Sweetest Lady's dam, Sweetest Roman) needed some speed. The conformation fit was OK; that's the reason I did it, plus the stud fee was a fair price." Continued