Photographs by Neena Ewing
When Larry Murray moved into the farm manager's house at Glade Valley Farms back in January, 1979, he didn't feel much at home. "Here I was, a city boy from Brooklyn . . . I don't think I really expected it to work out," says Murray, who was only 26 years old when he stepped right into the job of farm manager at the huge, 560-acre commercial breeding establishment in Frederick (Md.).
It wasn't as if Murray didn't know how to handle horses. The nephew of a trainer, he'd grown up working on the backstretch at Belmont Park. At a very early age he'd been an assistant trainer for one of the topstables in New York. And in his last job he'd chaperoned horses all over the world for an air transportation company.
But the new on-farm boss had never driven a tractor, or handled a manure spreader, in his life. Murray, who says running a big Thoroughbred farm is a lot less glamorous than some people might think ("If something needs to be done, I go out there and do it"), was young—and willing to learn. And he quickly grew into the job.
He learned the ins and outs of breeding farm routine from one of the top professionals in the field, Dr. Robert A. Leonard. A founding owner of Glade Valley, Dr. Leonard still lives on the farm and has overall
charge of the operation. But he has delegated most of the day-to-day responsibilities, including the supervising of breaking, breeding and foaling, farm upkeep, and dealing with clients, to Larry Murray.
"Dr. Leonard told me how he wants things done," says Larry, who has become widely known and respected throughout the breeding industry. "It's up to me to put them in practice."
Murray is still struck by the differences between race track and farm life: "One of the reasons I came here was to have the opportunity to see it all," he comments. "Back when I worked at the race track, I had no
idea where horses come from. They got off the van—and they were race horses. Nobody at the race track understands what it takes to raise a horse.
"Once I got here, it seemed so natural to me that this is the way breeding stock is handled. It's surprising to me that horses on the race track are not more neurotic than they are. It's got to be a tremendous shock for a horse to go from farm life to the race track. We shed raise our yearlings, and I can't imagine any other way. Horses are herd animals. Then, they go to the race track and they have to spend most of their time in stalls."
After working for nine years on a breeding farm, Murray finds it "amazing" that so many horses actually make it to the races. "When you see, firsthand, some of the things that can happen from the time a mare foals, up through weaning, and breaking, and early training. . ."
Glade Valley stands five stallions, including 20-year-old Rollicking, who has long been one of Maryland's leading sires. The farm is active year-round, and handles all phases from foaling to breaking yearlings and rejuvenating race horses. Glade Valley Although founding partner Dr. Robert Leonard still lives on the farm, Brooklyn-born Larry Murray handles day-to-day operations at 560-acre Glade Valley. One occupant of the hexagonal stallion barn is $369,051 winner I Am the Game. breeds and races, and buys and sells yearlings, in its own name, as well as for outside clients. "About the only thing we don't do," explains Larry, "is train horses to run off the farm."
For Murray, one of the biggest challenges is dealing with such large numbers. "We had 50 weanlings this year. You worry, with so many babies around during the breeding season, because they are so susceptible to problems. Fortunately, we had a fantastic year. We didn't lose anything. Sometimes I feel like I'd like to have the Pope come in and bless everything at the beginning of the breeding season."
But Larry is not a man who is easily rattled. Before coming to Glade Valley, he had a job that most horsemen would consider unimaginably stressful, and grueling. Today, he talks about his three years with the Murty Brothers air transportation company the way some people describe their vacations. "I got to see a lot of places, like Europe, South America, Japan, South Africa, that I would never have had a chance to see otherwise," says Murray. And although there were the inevitable snafus that come in that line of work, Larry says he was never really bothered by any of it.
He doesn't have any "nightmare stories, of horses pitching fits," although his wife, Janice, who was along on some of the travels, recalls the time they were taking 35 broodmares to South America "and the lights went out, and one of the mares broke loose." Janice will also never forget a trip to Caracas, when they arrived at 3 a.m. without their crew manifest. "We sat on the floor in the hallway all night, with a drunk official standing over us, holding a machine gun," recounts his wife.
Murray has worked with horses all his life. He grew up in Bellerose, a little community just over the fence from Belmont Park, and spent his summers and weekends walking hots. Although his grandfather, Mickey
Miles, had been a jockey (riding mostly in Europe because he had trouble making the weight in the U.S.), and his maternal uncle, Tom Miles, is a long established New England-based trainer, Larry says he did not exactly grow up in a family of horsemen.
"It wasn't like being a trainer's son. I was exposed to it, and I went to the race track with my uncle, but my parents were never interested in horses." Larry's father worked part-time in the mutuels department at New York tracks while Larry was growing up. Since then he has retired from a career with Blue Cross and gone to work full-time as a NYRA mutuels clerk. "But my father has no interest except the racing aspect," says Larry. "He never gets near a horse."
In 1972—the year that champion Numbered Account was a 3-year-old—Larry went to work for the Ogden Mills Phipps racing stable, and he quit college after attending for two years when Phipps' trainer, John Russell, offered him the job of assistant a short time later. "John Russell was a big influence on me," says Murray. "He had a definite knack for developing horses, and he would go to great lengths to keep them happy.
"Also, I learned a lot from the old grooms up in New York. Some of them had been working for the same people for a long time, and they made grooming horses an art."
Murray met his wife when he took a string of the Phipps horses to Camden, S.C., in 1975, and the couple was married in 1980, soon after he took the job at Glade Valley. Janice worked at race tracks, mostly as a groom, but says her sister, Dee Cottingham, was the real horsewoman of her family. Janice and Dee grew up in the Frederick area, and Dee, an accomplished rider, exercised horses at Glade Valley for 12 years. It was through Dee that Larry Murray met Dr. Leonard.
Murray Jr.'s family (right) includes (so far) Brian, 3, Larry, wife Janice and 5-year-old Patrick. Brian, 3, and they are looking forward to the birth of their third child in November. "Coming here was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," says Larry, who has not ruled out the possibility of returning to the race track to train horses some day.
This story was first published in the October 1987 issue of The Maryland Horse, part of a series on farm managers.