OBITUARIES: Sir Philip Oppenheimer

During a time when racing in Britain has become increasingly dominated by hugely wealthy owners from abroad, one of the most successful home- based owner-breeders in the last two decades has been Philip Oppenheimer.

His famous black and white halved colours have been carried with distinction at the highest level, with horses like the 1982 1,000 Guineas winner On the House and the 1987 Derby runner-up Most Welcome, both of which he bred.

But Oppenheimer's contribution to racing ended not just with his own horses. He played a significant part in the advancement of sponsorship, without which the sport would struggle to survive today.

His family's diamond company De Beers had a huge effect on racing with its long-standing sponsorship of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot, among the top races in the world. That sponsorship started in 1972, and Philip Oppenheimer won his "own" race in 1978 with the victory of Ile de Bourbon, in which he owned a share. The colt also won the Coronation Cup a year later as a four-year-old.

Educated at Harrow and Cambridge, where he was a boxing blue, Oppenheimer was a member of the famous Anglo-South African diamond family. He joined the company in 1934, starting in the Central Selling Organisation, learning the intricacies of sorting and valuing rough diamonds, first in London, then in Antwerp.

He served on the board of De Beers from 1956 and as chairman of one of its branches, the Diamond Trading Company, from 1975, during a particularly difficult time for the company, and it is to his credit that it was not irreparably tarnished by association with apartheid.

Despite having briefly ridden as an amateur rider, Oppenheimer did not start to own horses until his late forties. His first winner was Little Redskin in 1959.

Six years later he made a significant purchase, the Hascombe Stud in Newmarket, which he merged with his own Valiant Stud, named after his children Valerie and Anthony. It was from here that most of his top winners were bred.

Many of them descend from one of his first brood mare purchases, Stop Your Tickling. She produced Miba, who won two top races for fillies in 1965, the Princess Elizabeth and Pretty Polly Stakes. She in turn was dam of African Dancer, third to Pawneese in the 1976 Oaks.

African Dancer produced the good handicapper On Show, herself dam of the leading juvenile Welney, and his half-sister Inchmurrin, winner of the Child Stakes and dam of Inchinor, a leading miler during the 1993 season.

Oppenheimer achieved the ambition of any owner in winning a Classic, the 1982 1,000 Guineas, with On the House, which was also third in the Irish equivalent and beat the colts and the older generation in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. At the same Goodwood meeting, another Oppenheimer filly, Dancing Rocks, beat that year's Oaks winner Time Charter in the Nassau Stakes.

When Oppenheimer did buy racehorses, rather than breed his own, the purchases were often shrewd. One example was the Derby runner-up Most Welcome, whose form had tapered off by the time Oppenheimer bought him in 1988. He went on to be placed in the Turf Classic at Belmont Park, one of America's top turf races, and beat a field of outstanding milers as a five-year- old in the 1989 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Oppenheimer, who was elected to the Jockey Club in 1971, shared his racing interests with his son Anthony, who also became a director of De Beers.

They had about 20 brood mares at Hascombe, and although they raced most of their produce, some were sold as yearlings and some after their racing careers. He was fortunate that neither Pelerin nor On the House fetched their reserves when offered for public auction as yearlings, as both went on to great successes. Pelerin was fourth in the Derby in 1980 and won several top races as a four-year-old in 1981.

One of his potentially best fillies, Sally Rous, was killed in November 1990 on a return flight from New York where she had finished second in the Budweiser Breeders' Cup. There was more bad luck five months later when the promising colt, Welney, died after fracturing his pelvis on the gallops.

Richard Griffiths

Philip Jack Oppenheimer, diamond dealer and racehorse owner: born London 29 October 1916; Director, De Beers Consolidated Mines and De Beers Centenary AG 1956-95; chairman, Diamond Trading Company 1975-95; Kt 1970; married 1935 Pamela Fenn Stirling (one son, one daughter); died London 8 October 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map