Don't you love it when, just for a change, the salmon eats the bear? The VW Bug squashes the bus? Radar O'Reilly gets the girl and George Clooney goes home alone?
It's happening now—with a horse.
This was a slouch of a horse, Mr. Ed's rotten brother-in-law, a crumb bred from royal stock. His daddy was the leading sire in history, Mr. Prospector, and his mom an undefeated filly named Personal Ensign. But this horse got only the slacker gene. If this horse had been a person, it would've been a trust-fund kid with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, collar turned up, hanging out nights at the pool hall.
Born and reared at the Beverly Hills of the horse world—Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky.—this horse should've won millions at the races but never won a stakes. So he was put out to stud. Tough job: impregnate mares from mid-February to early July, then take seven months off.
But this horse couldn't even do that right. Of his first crop of 33 foals, 14 made it to the track and they won only three times as 2-year-olds, in 2000. The prices for his yearlings at auction NASDAQed. He was a bum begetting bums.
So his owner dumped him. Sold him for the bloodstock equivalent of a bag of oats. Sold him for low six figures to a little farm in Maryland with one tenth the horses, land and reputation of Claiborne. That's like Frank Sinatra Jr. being sent to Lubbock Dinner Theatre.
Murmur Farm was run by a sixtysomething couple, Allen and Audrey Murray, who still deliver their foals themselves and answer their own phones. Allen worked most of his life as an electrical engineer for the federal government so he could end up running a small breeding operation full time.
"Just to buy this horse we had to dig pretty deep into our savings," says Audrey, who quit working two years after marrying Allen and raised three children. Financially they were standing on a limb you wouldn't hang a wind chime from.
But then, in April, something weird started happening with this horse. His chumps started turning into champs. One of the horse's sons came out of the blue and won the Illinois Derby. The next week one of them won the Arkansas Derby. And on the first Saturday in May the Illinois winner ran away with the Kentucky Derby!
The winner in Louisville was War Emblem, who made his sire, 11-year-old Our Emblem, worth a trailer full of cash. For the Murrays it was like finding the Hope diamond in the dented-can bin. "It was like winning Lotto," says Audrey.