Our Emblem: Maryland Breeding's Newest Star

Edited from April 27 issue of The Blood-Horse
The pages of sports are filled with the names of figures that achieve stardom in a new location after being bounced from another. In the mid-1960s, Frank Robinson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles from the Cincinnati Reds because Reds management felt he was past his prime. All Robinson did in his first season with his new club was win the Triple Crown and lead them to a World Series championship.

Last fall, E. Allen Murray, and his wife, Audrey, took a chance on purchasing the young Kentucky stallion Our Emblem and standing him at their Murmur Farm near Darlington, Md. All Our Emblem has done since then is have his name thrust into the national spotlight as the sire of Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem and Triple Crown contender Private Emblem.

"Our phone hasn't stopped ringing," Audrey Murray said. "People are wanting to buy seasons, shares, and Our Emblem outright."

Unlike Robinson, who had many good years with the Reds, Our Emblem experienced few high points while standing for a syndicate at the Hancock family's Claiborne Farm near Paris. Starting out with a $10,000 fee in 1997, Our Emblem averaged a fine $88,375 with his first weanlings and a solid $57,619 with his initial group of yearlings. After that, things went downhill.

Our Emblem's first crop yielded only three 2-year-old winners in 2000 and his yearling average slipped to $27,570. By the fall of 2001, Our Emblem was represented by only one minor stakes winner and his yearling average had dropped even more. Claiborne, the home for many of the nation's top stallions, was looking to sell.

The Murrays had heard from a friend that Our Emblem was for sale and drove to Kentucky. "We were thrilled that a stallion like him was for sale," Audrey Murray said. "He was correct and good-looking, had a good race record and that great pedigree."

Our Emblem, who raced for Ogden Phipps, came within a nose of winning the 1995 Carter Handicap (gr. I) and placed in two other grade I stakes in a career in which he earned $366,013. His pedigree--by Mr. Prospector out of unbeaten champion Personal Ensign (by Private Account), dam of three grade I winners--could not be slighted in any way.

The Murrays were well aware of the drop in Our Emblem's sale figures and his poor sire record, but felt that the stallion had a chance for a big turnaround. "His first crop, 31 foals, was somewhat small, but his next two crops each had 48 foals," Murray said. "He had so much going for him in so many ways. We talked to Gus Koch (Claiborne manager) to find out about his mannerisms."

Our Emblem arrived Nov. 15 at Murmur. The Murrays syndicated him at $7,500 a share and decided on a $4,000 fee. "We sold the shares to our clients," Murray said. "There are over 20 shares, and we own more than half."

The Murrays received an indication they were on the right track when Private Emblem, who was stakes-placed in 2001, won the Jan. 4 Black Gold Handicap at Fair Grounds. Nine days later, another Our Emblem colt, Ourbestfriend Mark, captured a stakes in Panama. Two months after his 3-year-old debut, Private Emblem returned to the racetrack and won the March 2 Sam Houston Texan Juvenile Stakes.

As nice as they wins were, it was the grade II victories by Private Emblem and War Emblem that has caused all the commotion and a jump in Our Emblem's fee to $7,500. War Emblem won the April 6 Illinois Derby (gr. II) over Repent, and Private Emblem took the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) a week later to remain unbeaten this year.

"The day after the Arkansas Derby, Claiborne called to congratulate us," Murray said.

Eleven-year-old Our Emblem covered about 30 mares through mid-April. His book initially was 40 mares, but now is 80.

The Murrays plan to keep Our Emblem, but they are well aware what a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) win can do to a stallion's value. Especially to one so young and so well bred.