02/16/2010 1:00AM

Betty Mabee dies at 88


Betty L. Mabee, the co-owner of Golden Eagle Farm who was one of the most successful Thoroughbred owners and breeders in California history, died on Monday at her home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. according to Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, where Mabee was a director emeritus. Mabee was 88.

Mabee's son, Larry, said that his mother had died "peacefully and quietly" after an extended illness, according to a statement distributed by Del Mar.

Racing and breeding under the name Golden Eagle, Mabee and her late husband, John Mabee, received the Eclipse Award for breeding three times in the 1990s, in 1991, 1997, and 1998. The awards helped to elevate the stature of California's breeding industry in the eyes of the racing world, proving that breeders could have consistent success outside of central Kentucky.

John Mabee died in 2002. Since his death, Mabee had scaled back her involvement in the racing industry, though Golden Eagle Farms still stands two stallions. In 2002, Del Mar asked Betty Mabee to take John's seat on the board of directors, a role she accepted until stepping down in 2008. The John C. Mabee Handicap at Del Mar is named for her husband.

Natives of Iowa who moved to California in 1941, the Mabees purchased their first horses in 1957, spending $6,000 dollars at the Del Mar Yearling Sale. In 1972, they purchased 197 acres of property that they named after their burgeoning insurance business, Golden Eagle. Thirty years later, the farm had grown to nearly 600 acres and was the home for 400 horses. Over the years, the Mabees bred more than 170 stakes winners at the farm.

Without question, the Mabees most popular horse was Best Pal, the tireless gelding they bred and foaled who died in 1996 of a heart attack at age 8 while on his way to the training track at Golden Eagle. Second in the 1991 Kentucky Derby, Best Pal outran his plebeian pedigree to become the highest earning California-bred of all time, with $5.6 million in career earnings. Betty Mabee had always said that Best Pal was her favorite racehorse of all time.

Betty Mabee was born in Unionville, Iowa. She met John Mabee in high school, and the two were soon married. In 1941, John Mabee's doctors advised the couple to move to California, where the climate would soothe John's chronic bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis. Shortly after arriving, the Mabees opened a small grocery store, which they eventually built into the Big Bear Supermarket chain. While operating the stores, they branched out into insurance, and became the largest insurance employer in California.

In addition to her son Larry, Betty Mabee is survived by three grandchildren. As of late Monday, service arrangements had not been made final, according to Del Mar.