02/19/2010 1:00AM

Ernest Auerbach, Betty Mabee will be fondly missed

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Between them, Ernest Auerbach and Betty Mabee had some of their happiest times around Thoroughbreds and the people that care for them.

The two San Diego County breeders died earlier this month, and their families and employees remembered them on Thursday for their massive contributions to the sport.

Auerbach operated EA Ranches, while Mabee was the matriarch of Golden Eagle Farm, which at its height was the most powerful racing and breeding operation in the state.

Auerbach's red and yellow silks were a fixture at California tracks. He owned such multiple stakes winners as Queen of Wilshire and Star Cross, and was the owner-breeder of the five-time stakes winner Belle's Flag, a California-bred who won 7 of 15 starts and $570,297.

A native of New York, Auerbach died of pancreatic cancer on Feb. 1 at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. He was 93.

Auerbach spent his professional life in real estate, constructing homes and office buildings in Southern California. He bought a 1,000-acre farm in Ramona, Calif., in 1977.

"Starting with the people involved with racing, the jockeys, trainers, the exercise riders, he loved the whole scene," said his daughter, Heidi Farkash. "He loved the horses. He really loved the animals."

Auerbach had his first major success when Lottery Winner won the 1993 Goodwood Handicap. Many of his runners, including Belle's Flag, were trained by Darrell Vienna.

Farkash said her father was diagnosed with his illness less than two weeks before his death, and had spent time at the farm in recent months.

"We only did find out that he was ill a week and a half before he passed away," she said. "Despite his age and gradually slowing down, he was at the ranch with me 2 1/2 weeks before he passed away. He was driving himself, going to his office and going to the club to play bridge."

The family plans to continue operating the farm, according to Farkash.

The Mabee name has been synonymous with Del Mar racetrack for decades. Betty Mabee's late husband, John, developed Golden Eagle Farm in Ramona, and was chairman of Del Mar racetrack.

Betty Mabee died last Monday at her home in Rancho Santa Fe after an extended illness. She was 88.

After John Mabee's death in 2002, Betty Mabee became a director at Del Mar, a position she relinquished in 2008 when she became director emeritus.

Golden Eagle Farm is best known for breeding and owning the popular 1990s star Best Pal, who won the inaugural Pacific Classic in 1991 and 11 other stakes in California.

Betty Mabee attended the races at Del Mar as recently as 2008, to present the trophy in the John Mabee Handicap, and was a frequent visitor at the farm through that year, according to farm general manager Janine McCullough.

On one visit, McCullough remembers Mabee ordered lunch for the entire team and then sat down with the ranch hands to dive into pizza.

"All the employees had come up to see her," she said. "Even in her frail conditions she sat out and had pizza with all the guys."

Earlier this decade, she and McCullough had planned a trip to Keeneland to look at broodmares, but the trip never happened. Betty Mabee had a twisted ankle, and McCullough was briefly in a wheelchair because of a riding accident.

Undeterred, Mabee and McCullough bid from home in the San Diego area.

"She said, 'Janine, I think we're a little too banged up to go there,' " McCullough said. "She put the big TV on and it was like were sitting at Keeneland. She was like, 'I want that horse and I want that to happen.' "

The Golden Eagle operation has been downsized in recent years, as John and Betty Mabee's son Larry has continued the family's involvement at a smaller level.

When permits are approved, the farm will relocate from Ramona to Rancho Santa Fe. Golden Eagle Farm will have 14 horses at the track this year, continuing a decades-long legacy.