Thoroughbred breeder Betty L. Mabee dies

By Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

Betty L. Mabee, who with her late husband, John, helped build one of the West’s great thoroughbred breeding empires and played a key role in the blossoming of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Del Mar racetrack, died at about 7 p.m. Monday at her home in Rancho Santa Fe. She was 88.

Mabee passed “peacefully and quietly,” according to her son, Larry, who noted that his mother had finally succumbed to an extended illness.

A warm, personable woman with an easy smile, Mabee made a point of carving out time in her busy life to be involved in numerous charitable organizations and programs during more than half a century in the San Diego area. She was a founding member of Voices for Children and the Angels of Aseltine Auxiliary.

Mabee, a native of Unionville, Miss., grew up in Iowa and married John, her high school sweetheart, to start a partnership that was to last for 60 years and see them reach great heights in the world of business, as well as fame and fortune in the thoroughbred industry.

The Mabees moved from the heartland to San Diego during World War II and opened a mom-and-pop grocery store that evolved into the 30-store Big Bear Supermarket chain. Subsequently, the Mabees started and ran Golden Eagle Insurance Co., California’s third-largest workers’ compensation carrier with more than 1,300 employees. But the couple discovered their true love in 1957 when they bought two horses for $6,000 at the Del Mar Yearling Sale.

That small investment led to the founding of Golden Eagle Farm in Ramona. The Mabees became not only leading breeders in California, but national champions and Eclipse Award winners in 1991, 1997 and 1998.

Among the Mabees’ many equine successes, the best of all was Best Pal, a California champion they bred and foaled at their farm who went on to win more than $5.6 million, including Del Mar’s $1 million Pacific Classic.

Following the death of her husband in 2002, Mabee joined the board of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club as a director, a role she served in until 2008, when she took on the title of director emeritus.

Besides her son, Mabee is survived by three grandchildren.