Obituary: Louis Freedman

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LOUIS FREEDMAN was a self-made property millionaire and the owner- breeder of the 1987 Derby winner Reference Point. A natural administrator who served on the Race Relations Board and numerous health authorities, he was also one of the country's most successful bloodstock breeders and was the last British owner to win the Derby.

It was his passion for the thoroughbred and the great success with which he ran his Cliveden Stud at Taplow in Berkshire that brought him into the public eye, though he was always at pains to stress that he was not keen on the publicity which surrounds the highly successful racehorse owner.

For a man who rose to somewhere near the top in almost everything he tried to do there was no outward hint of a ruthless streak. The genial Freedman retained a refreshing outlook on life and was particularly fond of humorous understatement. He was happy to chat about his horses and their chances - which inevitably he played down - and he clearly enjoyed his involvement in what started as a relaxation and turned into a success-driven breeding business. He rose through racing's corridors of power to become President of the Racehorse Owners' Association from 1972 to 1974 and Deputy Senior Steward of the Jockey Club between 1981 and 1983.

Educated at University College School in London, Freedman served in the Royal Artillery TA during the Second World War. In 1946 he set up Ravensfield Properties, which was taken over by Land Securities plc in 1955. He was chairman of Land Securities between 1958 and 1977. It was during this period that he developed a hankering to own racehorses, which was his idea of a relaxing pastime to take him away from the stresses of business.

Freedman's boundless energy ensured that he pursued an active role in public life. This took him on to the Race Relations Board between 1968 and 1977, and he was appointed CBE in 1978 for his services to race relations. Once asked what a racehorse-owning property dealer was doing on the Race Relations Board, he replied: "Had it occurred to you that I might be interested in the dignity of mankind?"

In addition he was President of the National Association of Property Owners; Special Trustee of St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1974; Vice-Chairman of the North East Thames Regional Health Authority, 1975-79; Chairman of the Camden and Islington Area Health Authority, 1979-82; and Chairman of City & Hackney Health Authority, 1982-84.

Freedman's first taste of success at the top level in racing was with a colt called I Say, who finished third behind the mighty Sea Bird II in the 1965 Derby and went on to win the following year's Coronation Cup.

On the advice of his great friend Peter Willett, who is acknowledged as one of the great authorities on bloodstock breeding, Freedman bought the fillies Lucyrowe and Seventh Bride. Lucyrowe carried all before her to win a string of top fillies' races including the Coronation Stakes, Sun Chariot Stakes and the Nassau Stakes, in which she beat Seventh Bride in a memorable finish.

In 1966 Freedman bought Cliveden Stud, which had been established back in 1906 by the second Viscount Astor, and started his own breeding operation. Two years later he purchased Beech House Stud in Newmarket from Lady Sassoon.

Attica Meli, whom he had acquired from the Sassoon bloodstock, won the Yorkshire Oaks, Park Hill Stakes and the Princess Royal Stakes in 1972. Freedman's first Classic success came with his home-bred filly Polygamy who won the 1974 Oaks and was a wonderful example of her owner's great flair for naming his horses, being by Reform out of Seventh Bride.

During that same year another filly, Mil's Bomb, carried the yellow and black silks with great success, winning the Lancashire Oaks, Nassau Stakes and Park Hill Stakes. With his horses well to the fore Freedman decided to sell Beech House and concentrate his breeding interests at Cliveden.

By this time Henry Cecil had taken over the training of the Freedman horses from Peter Walwyn and in 1986 he produced Reference Point to run away with the William Hill Futurity, one of the top races confined to two-year-olds.

Freedman, something of a traditionalist, had harboured dreams of winning the Triple Crown - the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger. In Reference Point he was convinced that if ever there was a modern-day Triple Crown winner he was it. Then in the spring of 1987 Reference Point contracted a serious sinus infection which precluded him from taking part in the Guineas.

But the colt was back in time to win York's Dante Stakes before leading all the way for a famous victory in the Derby under a masterful ride from the American jockey Steve Cauthen. Reference Point went on to further glory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and duly won the St Leger.

The following year Freedman transferred the ownership of all his bloodstock to Cliveden Stud Company when his younger son Philip, a merchant banker and chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, took over the reins of the operation. At the time he said that his breeding and bloodstock would benefit from being run by a younger man, though it transpired later that Freedman had become disillusioned after an article in The People newspaper earlier in 1988 had made allegations that he had been party to an illegal deal with Lester Piggott about the jockey's retainer.

Louis Freedman was so upset by the whole affair that he reduced his public involvement in racing. At the subsequent libel case with The People an out-of-court settlement was agreed, with Freedman receiving substantial damages and costs which were believed to be in the region of pounds 300,000.

Louis Freedman, property dealer and racehorse owner and breeder: born 5 February 1917; CBE 1978; married 1944 Cara Abrahamson (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1960 Valerie Clarke (one son); died Cliveden, Berkshire 21 December 1998.