Betty 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 Monday at around 7 p.m. at her home in nearby Rancho Santa Fe, according to a release from Del Mar. 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 native of Unionville, Missouri, Mabee 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 the Thoroughbred industry.
The Mabees moved 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 Company, 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, California, which grew from 197 to 568 acres at its height in the early 2000s. The farm began with a handful of horses that expanded to more than 400 racing and breeding stock — supplemented by an additional 150 head that were quartered in Kentucky — during a highly successful run that saw the Mabees become not only the 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 — and Mrs. Mabee’s personal favorite — was Best Pal, a California champion they bred and foaled at their farm who went on to win more than $5.6 million, including the 1991 inaugural running of the $1-million Pacific Classic.
Other leading horses bred and/or owned by the Mabees have included Western Hemisphere, Souvenir Copy, General Challenge, Yearly Report, Event of the Year, Johnica, Worldly Ways, Fantastic Look and Beau’s Eagle, the first Grade I winner they owned and bred .
Following the death of her husband in 2002, Mrs. Mabee agreed to join 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.
A warm, personable woman with an easy smile, Mrs. Mabee was involved in numerous charitable organizations and programs during more than half a century in the San Diego. She was a founding member of Voices for Children and the Angels of Aseltine Auxiliary.
Besides her son, Mrs. Mabee is survived by three grandchildren.
Service arrangements have not been made final.