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Georgia Ridder, 87; Owner of Champion Thoroughbreds

June 17, 2002|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Georgia Ridder, the widow of newspaper publisher B.J. "Ben" Ridder who continued racing their large stable of thoroughbreds after her husband's death to win dozens of important horse races including the 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic, has died. She was 87.

Ridder died Friday night of natural causes at her home in Pasadena, according to her son, Bernard J. "Barney" Ridder Jr.

The Ridders, who moved from Long Island, N.Y., to California in 1955 when Ben became publisher of the Pasadena Independent & Star News, plunged into racing in the late 1950s. Their best horse might have been Flying Paster, whose misfortune was to be born the same year as Spectacular Bid.

But the Ridder stable's biggest win came in 1996, when Alphabet Soup, a longshot gray colt, beat Cigar, the reigning horse of the year, and other top horses in the $4-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Woodbine in suburban Toronto.

"It's sacrilegious, beating a horse like Cigar, isn't it?" Georgia Ridder said after the race. "But if somebody was going to do it, I'm glad it was us."

Ridder succeeded her husband on the board of the Oak Tree Racing Assn. after his death in 1983, and in recent years remained an emeritus member. The board conducts an annual fall racing meet at Santa Anita.

"I would send her everything regular board members would get, including minutes of the meetings, and she would read it all," said Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of Oak Tree. "Then when we would see each other at the track, she was able to discuss the issues as though she hadn't missed a meeting."

When Alphabet Soup was to run in the Breeders' Cup, Ridder, who had undergone knee-replacement surgery earlier in the year, was reluctant to make the long trip to Canada to see the race. But Chillingworth encouraged her to go.

"Then when the horse won," Chillingworth said, "she was afraid to go to the post-race interview room, afraid that she wouldn't know what to say. But she was fine and charmed everyone. She acted like a Hollywood star once she got there."

In 1979, Flying Paster was the best 3-year-old in California--he won the Santa Anita Derby--but when he went east to compete in the Triple Crown his bete noire was Spectacular Bid, a powerful colt who lost only four of 30 races in his career. Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, with Flying Paster running fifth and fourth in those races. Spectacular Bid didn't win the Belmont Stakes, which Flying Paster skipped. In the winter of 1980, Spectacular Bid came to California to win four races at Santa Anita, with Flying Paster finishing second in them all.

Chris McCarron, the Hall of Fame jockey who announced Saturday that he would retire in another week, listed Flying Paster as one of the best horses he ever rode.

"He was underrated, and unlucky to be in the same class as Spectacular Bid," McCarron said. "But he was a very good horse."

Other top horses raced by the Ridder Thoroughbred Stable were Cat's Cradle, Cascapedia, Winter Solstice and Raw Gold. Cascapedia was voted an Eclipse Award, racing's highest honor, for best older filly or mare in 1977, and Cat's Cradle was voted California horse of the year in 1995.

Georgia Ridder owned Hidden Springs Ranch, a 165-acre property about 4,500 feet above sea level in the San Jacinto Mountains. She didn't believe in pushing young horses and encouraged her trainers--Gordon Campbell had Flying Paster and David Hofmans cared for Alphabet Soup--to go easy with their stock.

"When Ben told me he was going into the breeding business, it horrified me," Ridder said in an interview with The Times in 1996. "But now I enjoy planning the matings for our mares. I wouldn't be able to get by without racing. You can't just sit around and play bridge all the time."

B.J. Ridder was 70 when he died. "I never thought about a dispersal sale [of their horses]," Georgia Ridder said in a 1997 interview with the Thoroughbred Times. "Flying Paster had just gone to stud then."

Ridder's activities were not restricted to horses. She was on the board of the Pasadena Art Museum and the Pasadena Symphony Assn., and also belonged to the Annandale Golf Club.

Georgia Buck Ridder, an only child, was born on Dec. 5, 1914, in Baltimore. Her mother was the former Mary Elizabeth Pue and her father, Laurance Buck, invented the square, space-saving milk bottle. After attending Ethel Walker School in Connecticut, she was married in New York. Her husband had been a polo player at Princeton University.

Survivors include sons Bernard J. "Barney" Ridder Jr. of Huntington Beach and Michael Ridder of New York City, and two grandchildren.

The family has asked that memorial contributions be made to the Nature Conservancy of California or to Descanso Gardens in La Canada.

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