Parkton woman has winning touch with steeplechase horses
Alicia Murphy walks alongside Mark Beecher, in white, riding Jungle Chief and Jacob Roberts aboard On the Corner during an early morning training session April 4. Beecher will ride Private Attack in the Grand National Steeplechase Championship and the Hunt Cup this year. (Sarah Pastrana, Patuxent Publishing / April 4, 2012)
"Wanted: A physically strong individual willing to be put in harm's way seven days a week when galloping and jumping thoroughbreds. Must be able to work long days and endure weather extremes. Ability to administer medicine, assess and treat injuries is essential. An encyclopedic knowledge of horses, jockeys and steeplechase courses is a must. Good communication skills needed to speak with affluent horse owners, jockeys from around the world and hired stable hands.
Pay is moderate. Job satisfaction is immeasurable."
Murphy is up every day by 5 a.m. and in the saddle by 7. Her office is a big barn on a Hunt Valley farm off Falls Road where she boards and trains horses.
Right now, the Parkton resident is training five: one, named Jungle Chief, is hers and the other four have owners who pay Murphy to exercise them and get them ready for steeplechase races by jumping hurdles or timber fences. She's training them for the upcoming Grand National Steeplechase and Maryland Hunt Cup races, slated for April 21 and April 28.
On April 14, one of the horses Murphy trains, Grinding Speed, owned by Roland Park resident Michael Wharton and ridden by Irish jockey Mark Beecher, came in second in the John D. Schapiro Memorial Race at My Lady's Manor Steeplechase races.
Murphy has trained another winning horse, Private Attack, for the past 10 years. Last year, he won both the Hunt Cup and Grand National.
In 2010, Murphy was named the leading trainer at the Maryland Steeplechase Association's Maryland Governor's Cup awards. Private Attack won the George Brown Bowl for the timber horse with the best performance at Maryland's spring steeplechase races in both 2010 and 2011.
"It's my job to care for the total welfare of a horse and to keep its owner informed," the 57-year-old Murphy says. "Some owners have strong ideas about what their horse can or should do. The role of the trainer is to try to honor the owner's wishes, but ultimately run the horse the way the horse is meant to be run."
On this cool April day, just prior to the My Lady's Manor race, Murphy and Beecher are off on a 7 a.m. ride.
She is on Grinding Speed and Beecher rides Private Attack, a horse Murphy trains for Sportsmans Hall, a partnership named after the Upperco farm owned by the Julie and Dan Colhoun family.
"Private Attack has heart and he loves to run," she says. "The faster he goes, the happier he is."
Dan Colhoun III originally got the horse as a polo prospect but called Murphy to train him after he saw the horse nimbly jump out of a fenced area.
"What this horse has done is remarkable," Colhoun says. "He's got pure natural ability and Alicia deserves the credit for making him one of the top timber horses in the country."
Murphy and Beecher gallop across rolling hills still covered in early morning dew and return to the barn with clouds of steam rising off both horses.
As soon as the horses are hosed down, dried off, draped in soft blankets and put back in stalls, Murphy gets two more ready for some exercise.
This time, she is an observer as Beecher rides Jungle Chief. Jason Roberts, who has just arrived after galloping horses at Pimlico, takes On The Corner, also called Doug, for a ride. The two gallop for a while, then jump over several hurdles.
"Alicia is very good at figuring out what a horse does best," says Lucy Howard, Doug's owner. "When she first started training him, he was very sour, but she's been patient with him."
Two days later, Doug finished third in the Stoneybrook Steeplechase race in North Carolina on April 7. "Doug did exactly what we hoped," Howard says. "The idea was for him to get some good experience and come back feeling good about himself. I have to give all the credit to Alicia. She's done a fabulous job."