Joe L. Allbritton, owner of champion Hansel, dies at 87

by | 12.12.2012 | 5:05pm

Joseph L. Allbritton, a well-known banker and businessman who campaigned 1991 3-year-old champion Hansel and then brought the son of Woodman back to his Lazy Lane Farm in Upperville, Va., at the conclusion of his stud career in Japan, died Wednesday in Houston, Texas, after an extended illness. He was 87 years old.

While Hansel may be Mr. Allbritton's best-known Thoroughbred through triumphs in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes under the direction of trainer Frank  Brothers, his involvement in Thoroughbred racing dated back to the 1970s. He owned a small string of horses in Europe, winning Group races with the likes of Swell Fellow and 1977 Royal Ascot winner He Loves Me, trained by Jeremy Hindley.

In 1981, Mr. Allbritton became involved as a Thoroughbred breeder through his purchase of the onetime Brookmeade Farm of Isabel Dodge Sloan, which he renamed Lazy Lane. He added adjacent property to the farm, bringing its total up to just shy of 1,800 acres.

According to longtime Lazy Lane manager Frank Shipp, Mr. Allbritton bred 32 stakes winners in the name of Lazy Lane Stables, 11 of them winners of Graded or Group stakes around the world. Included among them is the Seeking the Gold filly Seeking the Pearl, the richest Virginia-bred of all-time who went to Japan to race and in 1998 became the first Japanese-based horse to win a Grade or Group 1 race outside of Japan when she captured the Prix Maurice de Gheest in France. Seeking the Pearl retired with more than $4 million in earnings.

In recent years, Lazy Lane bred American Graded Stakes winners Hot Summer (Malibu Moon) and Position Limit (Bellamy Road) and was represented at the 2012 Breeders' Cup as breeder of Cogito, a Group 2-placed son of Giant's Causeway who finished seventh in the Turf.

In addition to Hansel, who won six American Graded Stakes at 2 and 3 and earned $2.9 million en route to his 1991 Eclipse Award as outstanding 3-year-old male, Mr. Allbritton campaigned at least 20 additional stakes winners. Among them are G1 Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Secret Hello and French Group 1 Prix Morny winner Bad As I Wanna Be for trainer Brian Meehan.

Lazy Lane currently owns 14 broodmares as a commercial operation and consigns yearlings through Brookdale Farm, Dapple Bloodstock, Mill Ridge, and Warrendale Sales. Hansel, now 24 years old, also resides at Lazy Lane. He's been there since 2006 when Mr. Allbritton paid for his return to the farm after completing his stud career in Japan, where he stood for seven years.

“He just had a lifelong appreciation for the sport,” said Shipp, adding that Mr. Allbritton and wife Barbara, who owned homes in Washington, D.C., Texas, and California, spent a great deal of time at the main residence at Lazy Lane.

Mr. Allbritton ran in high-powered business and political circles, counting among his friends people like former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, along with England's Prince Charles.

Born to humble beginnings in D'Lo, Miss., he developed his work ethic as a young boy, making $1 a day stirring orange juice at a local bottling plant, according to one story. Later, when his family moved to Houston, Mr. Allbritton worked at his father's cafeteria, cooking, washing dishes and tending to the counter.

Mr. Allbritton served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and attended Baylor University, where he earned undergraduate and law degrees. A savvy land purchase funded with borrowed money launched his career, and he made his mark in business as a hard-charging, often controversial banker and later as a media mogul through Allbritton Communications. He executed a hostile takeover of Riggs Bank, which was later sold to PNC, and bought and then sold the Washington Star newspaper. His family's business also owned eight ABC-affiliate local television stations, including one in Washington, D.C., that he renamed WJLA (his initials).

In recent years, under the leadership of his son Robert Allbritton, the family media business launched the highly successful Washington, D.C., paper Politico, which also publishes a must-read website for anyone interested in politics.

He was involved with numerous philanthropic and civic causes, ranging from several presidential libraries and foundations, the Baylor Medical School, Oxford Scholars, the George Mason Law School, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

A statement from the family read: “Joe was, first and foremost, a beloved and loyal husband, father, grandfather and friend. His life was defined by a love, wit, charm and attentiveness that will be forever cherished by all of us. Joe's life was also one of great achievement, as a businessman, innovator and philanthropist. He was fiercely passionate and unfailingly generous.”

Mr. Allbritton is survived by his wife, Barbara, son Robert, and two grandchildren.

  • Glimmerglass

    May he rest in peace. Lazy Lane Farm (kept in top notch shape) has been for many years on the Hunt Country Stable tour. For the tour Mr. Allbritton had Hansel available for the public which was a very nice gesture.

  • For many years I had a business in the DC area, and still have property there.  He was a bulwark of business in that community, and highly regarded in all walks of life.  We need more people like him.  So glad he had a long and prosperous life.  

  • Francis Bush

    I have written more of his history in my book titled Colonial Downs and More. The publisher is Iuniverse. Its available on line or book form.

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