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|05-20-03: Horses swimming into shape
|By SHELLEY GRIESHOP
The Daily Standard
MENDON - R.J. Murphy operates a fitness center with a 12-foot deep
swimming pool and a treadmill large enough to accommodate a half-dozen people - at the
But his clients aren't the usual two-legged variety, they're
Standardbred harness race horses who together have claim-ed nearly $1 million at tracks
across the country as well as in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Standardbred horses are an
American breed of trotting and pacing horses bred for harness racing.
"This horse never raced for less than $25,000," Murphy, 27,
said, as he walked into the stall of Banker Jack.
The big, black horse with white patches above his back hooves stood
with his head held high as if he knew what was being said about him. Murphy, a 1994 Celina
High School graduate, explained how the horse, a recent addition, coveted about $500,000
in three years of racing for his previous owner, and is expected to sire future high-stake
"He's never made money for us, but we're going to be using him to
breed," Murphy explained. "He used to race a mile in one minute, 50 seconds.
Like Michael Jordan in basketball, Banker Jack's the real deal."
Murphy, along with his father, Roy, and girlfriend, Keely Moore,
currently care for and train about 27 horses at Murphy's Pool and Track on Deep Cut Road,
a few miles east of Mendon.
Off to one wing of the Murphy's neatly swept barn are numerous stalls
where big, brown and black horses such as Major Mahone, Beaumont and a mare named Rose
Scooter peer out over the top of wooden fences. On the opposite end of the barn is an
in-ground, cement pool filled with 85,000 gallons of water.
"The pool has four filters," said Moore, as she gently led
Duncan Adonna down the ramp into the water. "The water is kept at 66-68 degrees so
the horses don't get chilled or overheated."
As the full-grown horse entered the water, it immediately began to move
its legs to stay afloat as Moore carefully led the animal by rope from the outside of the
pool. The horse's head, the only part of its body visible above the green-tinted water,
periodically bobbed from side to side as it swam without making a splash.
"Nearly all horses know how to swim," she said. "It's
Murphy and Moore explained how swimming helps the horses exercise
without resistance to their muscles, similar to the benefits swimming provides humans. The
soothing exercise is especially beneficial when a horse is recovering from a tough race or
injury, they said.
"It's also a nice change from running them on the track, kind of
like a change of attitude," Murphy said with a grin.
Murphy said some horse owners ship their horses to the facility just to
use the pool located on the family's 100-plus acre property. The Murphys also board
several horses for other people.
Moore and Murphy claim their Standardbred horses are kept healthy and
have relatively few injuries because they treat them well and don't race them too often or
Murphy explained that everyone involved in the business has their own
particular gift with the animals, such as Moore who can retrieve difficult horses that no
one else can.
But the pair agree it's R.J. Murphy's father, Roy, who really
understands horses and their needs.
"He's like the actual Ohorse whisperer,' " said the younger
Murphy. "I'm actually pretty good with horses, but will never be as good as
Roy Murphy, 53, got his first horse when he was 13 and started an
impressive harness racing career at 17. The elder Murphy holds four training titles at
Lebanon Raceway with the most wins by one jockey at the track. Among his other honors, he
also holds the record at Lebanon for having eight consecutive wins with the same horse,
Roy Murphy's father, Ora Murphy of Celina, broke into the horse
business decades ago after teaming up with Roy Murphy' brother-in-law, Tom Gillis of
Celina, a former baseball and basketball coach at Celina schools.
The operation now continues three generations later and so does the
family's love of Standardbred horses.
"What's great about the breed is their disposition with
people," R.J. Murphy said. "And when they're through racing, they can easily be
switched over to good riding horses. They never stop giving us pleasure."
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