MONTICELLO, NY — Murray Bassen, owner of the Flying Horse Farm, has been racing at “The Mighty M” for many years. He’s been in the sport of kings for decades, starting with …
MONTICELLO, NY — Murray Bassen, owner of the Flying Horse Farm, has been racing at “The Mighty M” for many years. He’s been in the sport of kings for decades, starting with riding bareback at the age of about four, to showing horses with 4-H, to working on a dude ranch, before finally owning his own stable of harness horses. Most recently, he established a horse farm just across the border into Orange County.
“You do the math,” replied the 70-year-old horseman when asked how long he’s been passionate about the legendary sport.
At as a youngster, Bassen got his introduction to horses by riding them at his uncle’s farm in Chatham, NY. Later, as his folks spent the holidays vacationing in the Catskills, he spent time at the Grand Hotel in Parkville, NY, owned “back in the day” by his uncle Max Schmidt.
“My uncle was the sheriff in Parksville,” he recalled, adding that while a lot of kids his age played volleyball and wiffleball on vacation, he used to hitchhike into town to work at a stable near the old Paramount Hotel.
“I cleaned stalls for a ticket to ride, and back in those days, in my first job I made 50 cents an hour, and that was pretty good money for a 13-year-old.”
Later on, Bassen spent time exhibiting horses “at little 4-H shows.” After that, he began working at a dude ranch called Sunnycroft Ponderosa Ranch in Wallkill, NY next to Blue Chip Farm, which he described as the “largest breeding farm in New York State.”
Next on his equestrian quest came a job taking folks on trail rides five times a day—three trips in the morning and two more in the afternoon.
“He owned a riding stable down the road here and was the marshal at Monticello Raceway,” said Bassen of the stable’s owner. “I just wanted to be in the barn because I loved horses. They had me taking out trail rides—sometimes it was below zero—but I loved horses... I don’t care what the weather is, it’s an outdoor job.”
Bassen got his harness racing license in 1978, and his first race at “The Mighty M” was with Popular Phyllis. Then, he and a partner claimed a horse at the local track for $3,000. “[That was] a lot of money for two guys starting out in the business.”
As time passed, he picked up another partner and the trio of horsemen teamed up to acquire Echo Brook Farm in Red Hook, NY, where, according to Bassen, their “20 something” steeds raced at Roosevelt, Yonkers and Monticello.
Recounting the heyday of the local track, he said, “We used to have 20 or 30 thousand fans, and it took you two weeks to get a dinner reservation... it was back when the Catskills and the Concord were going, and things were really good.”
Time moved on, and Bassen went out on his own, driving at Hinsdale, NH and then on to Freehold, NY at the White Birch Farm with a fairly famous stud-horse named Adios Ronny.
Later, he moved back to the Empire State to help out his folks and built up “a pretty good stable” with the Meadowlands as his home base for a while.
“About 30 years ago, my horse Always a Beach posted a time of 1:49, which was really fast back then... all the stable of horses were in the 30- to 40-thousand-dollar range.”
Bassen founded the Flying Horse Farm, essentially “putting all my eggs in one basket.” He now considers “The Mighty M” his track, although, on occasion, he races at the Meadowlands.
“It’s my alma mater,” he said of Monticello Raceway, adding that, since the NYS Gaming Commission only recently lifted the ban on harness racing, he’s trying to convince the governing body to allow one of his older standardbreds to compete, since racing was halted for several months due to the pandemic.
To that end, Bassen shared with this sports scribbler a letter penned by Alan Schwartz, president of the officers and board of directors of the Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association, to Robert Williams, executive director of the state’s jurisdictional racing authority. The letter urged them to allow 14-year-old horses to get back on the track, at least for a portion of 2021, in an attempt to make up for time lost to COVID-19.
“I love it here,” said Bassen when asked his take on the Monticello Raceway. “I think Monticello is a great track, the people here are great... We’ve suffered through everything together, and there’s a lot of camaraderie.”
“In the paddock, we’ve known each other for years, sometimes decades, some of us for 50 years.”