THE racing industry is mourning the death on Tuesday of the Honourable Patricia Cavendish O’Neill, the great animal lover, author, racehorse trainer and breeder associated with former champion breeders, Broadlands Stud. She was 93.
O’Neill was an activist and a philanthropist, who will be remembered for being a top trainer in her own right and a successful breeder. She raced the likes of Swan River, Miss Lindeman, Rose Bay and Mexican Summer, stood stallions Royal Prerogative, Averof and Free State and bred top runners among which sprinter Highborn Harry will be best remembered. She sold the highest-price filly, Stolen Gem, and the highest priced colt Kayani at the National Sale in the same year.
In the 1990s, O’Neill turned Broadlands from a stud farm to an animal sanctuary and her lasting endeavours included her well-publicised campaign of rescuing lobsters from restaurants, to playing nanny to animals of all shapes and sizes – all who took refuge at her picturesque Somerset West farm.
O’Neill grew up among animals. Her father was Brigadier General Frederick “Caviar” Cavendish and her mother was Enid, Countess of Kenmare, who imparted her love of animals to her daughter. “My mother had over 100 dogs at one point and two tame silver foxes that slept on her bed beside her,” O’Neill said in a 2017 interview with Fair Lady.
She was educated at home, spent her young life travelling the world and at 23 years of age married Olympic swimmer Frank O’Neill, only to divorce him three years later. She married and divorced Count Ayman De Rossy and then lived in Kenya, where she had a tame lion that slept in her bed.
O’Neill moved to Cape Town in 1968, re-married Frank O’Neill and was left a vast fortune when her mother died in 1972. “It was left £66 million, but I am penniless today. Accountants and so-called friends took it all,” she remarked in 2017.
Former champion jockey Garth Puller recalled a great horsewoman who made a huge contribution to racing and breeding with influential stallions and imports from Australia of high-class broodmares.
Puller told Sporting Post: “After riding work, we would have breakfast and be surrounded by what felt like 17 dogs of all shapes and sizes, chimpanzees, birds, parrots – she was a great lover of animals and one of the most remarkable people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
Amanda Carey of Ridgemont Highlands, who worked alongside O’Neill at Broadlands for a long time, paid tribute, saying: “Pat was a huge part of my life from the day I left school. She taught me so much, not just about horses and yearling preparation but about life and love. The memories and stories, many still untold, will be shared by all who crossed her path, for many years to come.
“She is a legacy in her own right, from breeding and racing champion thoroughbred racehorses, to philanthropy beyond the realms of just humanity,” said Wayne Kobusch of Wood-Manor farm.