Bloodstock pioneer and trainer Mary Hambro dies after long illness
Mary Hambro, a pioneer in the world of bloodstock consignment and also a successful owner, breeder and trainer, has died after a long and determined battle with cancer. She was 67.
Racegoers might remember Hambro principally for winners such as Dovers Hill, with whom she won five races over jumps, and Beechy Bank, who equalled the all-time British record starting-price with her first Flat winner at a colossal 200-1 at Warwick in 2002. However, her legacy lies principally in the world of bloodstock consignment.
Ted Voute, a friend and former rival, led the tributes when he said: "Mary was a pioneer in consignment, changing the game here in terms of preparation and presentation.
"She was the first consignor in this country when she was Mary James of the Cotswold Stud.
"The whole concept came from America, where Lee Eaton was the pioneer, and she adapted a model he had used successfully, as I did later, and made a great success of it.
"She was the first to prepare professionally the showing of horses at the sales for the likes of Robert Sangster and James Wigan, which had formerly been the province of owner-breeders themselves."
He added: "When I came back from America there was basically Mary and I doing it for the guts of ten years before everyone else decided they could probably do it too, and so we were rivals, but we never stepped on each others' toes and it was very friendly.
"She was very good at it until her marriage to Rick [Hambro], and she set the bar at a new height.
"She will be very sadly missed, but she didn't half battle."
Martin Mitchell of Tattersalls recalled: "Mary was a lovely lady and very endearing. She was the first consignor to really market foals and yearlings professionally.
"They were always very well turned out, but what distinguished her operation was that she was the first to actually present them and market them rather than just show them to anyone who turned up.
"It was the details too, like the flower tubs outside the boxes, and the door cards and so on that they all do now. She was something of a perfectionist and she was no pushover, but I was very fond of her."
Hambro wound down her involvement in consignment after she married investment banker and philanthropist Richard Hambro, a breeder and Jockey Club member who was chairman of Newmarket racecourse until his death in 2009.
Julian Richmond-Watson, who succeeded him as Newmarket chairman, said: "I knew Mary when she was consigning as Mary James, when she was the first to professionalise the business, and I knew her better when she was married to Rick. She loved Newmarket and she was a great supporter. She came racing regularly until she was too ill to come."
Richard Hambro was the third husband of the former Mary Briggs, a one-time secretary to Ian Balding and Ken Oliver who had formerly been married to Barry Brogan – a jockey associated with such charismatic stars as Charlie Potheen, Even Keel, Flyingbolt and The Dikler whose career was cut short by alcohol and gambling problems – and then later to company director John James.
She was the co-breeder of 1985 Gran Premio di Milano winner Shulich and of Sapience, who in 1989 won the Ebor and was second in the St Leger, and later won the Princess Of Wales's Stakes and the Jockey Club Stakes.
A permit-holder in the 1970s, she trained in a modest way after ceasing consigning, and the last of around 20 winners was Primogeniture, a 66-1 winner at Chelmsford in 2016 on his first start for the stable. She also had horses with Martin Keighley, a near neighbour.
Keighley said: "Mary was a very strong lady who battled with cancer for such a long time and gave it a massive fight.
"She lived just a mile down the road from me and I trained a few for her.
"She was a very good friend to us and I hope she managed to watch her homebred horse Buckle Street, who she sold to The Condicote Clan but still kept tabs on, finish third at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. It's terribly sad."
Hambro's funeral will take place at St Mary's Church, Batsford, on Monday January 22 at 2pm.