Betty Mabee, who with her late husband, John, built one of the West Coast’s leading Thoroughbred empires, died "peacefully and quietly," according to her son, Larry, who noted in a family release that his mother had succumbed to an extended illness She was 88.
A native of Unionville, Mo., Betty 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 and Thoroughbreds.
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, which would become California's third-largest workers' compensation carrier with more than 1,300 employees. They started in racing after buying two horses for $6,000 at the 1957 Del Mar yearling sale.
That small investment led to the founding of Golden Eagle Farm near Ramona, Calif., which grew from 197 acres to 568 acres in the early part of the last decade. The farm began with a handful of horses that expanded to more than 400 racing and breeding horses—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 Eclipse Award winners in 1991 and in 1997-98.
Among the Mabees many equine successes, the best of all—and Betty Mabee’s personal favorite—was homebred Best Pal, a rugged California champion foaled at their farm. Best Pal went on to earn $5.6 million, including the 1991 inaugural running of Del Mar's most prestigious race, the $1-million Pacific Classic.
Following the death of her husband in 2002, 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.
John Mabee, while serving as president and chairman of the board of Del Mar, had devoted numerous hours into transforming the track into a well-maintain and stylish place to watch racing.
At the time of his death, the Mabees were the breeders of 173 stakes winners and the owners of 111 added-money winners. The totals for each have increased.
In addition to Best Pal, the Mabees raced such other top runners as General Challenge, Dramatic Gold, Excellent Meeting, and Event of the Year.
Betty Mabee made a point of carving out time in her busy life to be deeply involved in numerous charitable organizations and programs in the San Diego area. She had a special love for projects involved with children in need and was a founding member of Voices for Children and the Angels of Aseltine Auxiliary.
Besides her son, Mabee is survived by three grandchildren.
Service arrangements have not been made final.