Maryland horse breeder Allen Murray dies

Allen Murray, a Maryland horse breeder best known for bringing the stallion Our Emblem to Maryland and then selling him for $10 million in 2002, died Tuesday morning of natural causes at his farm, family members said. He was 80.

Murray owned and operated Murmur and Berkley Farms, in Darlington, with his wife of 58 years, Audrey. The breeding farm stands three stallions -- including 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze -- while an adjacent property is used to break and train horses.

"I heard recently that he said when he goes, he wants to go with his boots on," said Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "So I guess we can take solace that he passed away at his farm."

A Havre de Grace native, Murray became interested in horse racing at a young age. He attended races at the old Havre de Grace track and decided he wanted to go into the business.

"I thought to myself, 'The horse business is the one to be in!' " Murray told The Sun in 2009. "Havre de Grace really was a racetrack town back then. Everyone moved into one bedroom every spring and rented out the rest of their house because there was no hotels. Thousands of people would come to town, and they needed a place to stay. My family had a five-bedroom house, and we all moved into one bedroom for two weeks. It was fun because of all the people you got to meet."

Murray met his wife while riding show horses as a teenager. They bought a brood mare for $800 and started their operation in 1959, eventually settling on a farm in Churchville. Their stable grew to more than 100 horses and they relocated to a spread that now spans 160 acres near the Susquehanna River.

Allen Murray went to the University of Delaware, earning a degree in electrical engineering, and worked at the Aberdeen Proving Ground for 38 years before retiring in 1989. His wife ran the day-to-day operations of the farm, and they raised three children.

In 2002, the Murrays' operation rose to national prominence when War Emblem, son of their stallion Our Emblem, won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. They had purchased Our Emblem, declared a failure after five breeding seasons in Kentucky, for $200,000 after the 2001 season.

War Emblem's success caused a bidding war for the sire, and the Murray family decided to sell Our Emblem to a partnership of prominent Kentucky farms WinStar and Taylor Made before the Belmont was run (War Emblem would surge to the lead in the final race of the Triple Crown but fade down the stretch.)

In addition to his wife, Murray leaves behind three children, eight grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Fund, 500 Redland Court, Suite 105, Owings Mills, MD  21117 or the Maryland Heart Association.