Tributes Paid As Tim Preston Dies At 80

Tim Preston, right, with his wife Rossy and Geoffrey Russell | Z Racing

Tributes have been paid to Keeneland's longstanding and much-admired European representative Tim Preston, who died earlier this week aged 80 after an illness.

He spent 23 years in his role with the Kentucky sales and racing company, starting in 1989 when it was still de rigueur for any major international bloodstock figure to be seen at the July yearling auction.

His CV had previously included spells with a variety of trainers in Britain, a time as an amateur jockey (including a Cheltenham Festival ride), work at Greentree Stud in Kentucky and with South African handler Basil Cooper.

He moved on to specialise in shipping, working with Hipavia in France and then the Curragh Bloodstock Agency. In an era where equine air transport was far from reliable, he was adept at problem-solving and ensured many high-profile horses met their international targets.

He joined Keeneland in a golden era when transatlantic buyers were hungry for the American blood that is now behind every major European sire line. His unflappable nature again proved invaluable, whether dealing with occasionally demanding clients or unforseen situations.

In the years leading to his retirement in 2012, Preston also grew the participation by European breeze-up consignors that is now such a big feature of Keeneland's September Sale.

His easygoing charm made him a favourite in the company's Lexington office. He had time for everyone, whether a secretary or the directors of sales Rogers Beasley and Geoffrey Russell, both of whom became his great friends.

It was Bill Greely, Keeneland's president from 1986 to 2000, who appointed Preston and he yesterday [Thursday] recalled him with fondness.

“What can I say that hasn't already been spoken of Tim Preston,” said Greely. “He was one of the nicest, most personable, capable and horse-savvy people with whom I ever had the pleasure to work. The words 'no' and 'I can't' were not in his vocabulary. He was always there to assist anyone who needed his help or his sage advice.

“Tim was instrumental in building the strong connections between Keeneland and the horse connections in Europe, especially England.

“I, along with everyone at Keeneland who had the privilege to know Tim, will miss him, his ready smile and his wit. We all loved Tim; especially me. Most importantly, he unconditionally loved his wife Rossy and his three children.”

Preston initiated a Keeneland sponsorship at York in 1990 and – as a man with an appreciation of racing history – saw that the William Hill Sprint Championship revert to its original name of the Nunthorpe Stakes. Appropriately the first renewal was won by Keeneland graduate Dayjur. He also oversaw sponsorships at the Curragh, which continue with the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes today.

After watching Lingfield on television, it was Preston that encouraged Keeneland to become the first major US venue to use Polytrack on its main course in 2006, although dirt has subsequently returned.

He embraced a programme of overseas internships at Keeneland that saw the likes of future bloodstock luminaries Freddie Powell and Bertrand Le Metayer gain experience in the Kentucky office.

Living most recently in Dalham, he had been a much-loved member of the Newmarket community, often quietly helping those in need without fanfare. A man of huge knowledge, humour and understated generosity, he acquired a wide and often longstanding circle of friends at home and abroad.

“I remember the day I met Tim in February 1964,” recalled Dr John Chandler, who went on to run Mill Ridge Farm and serve as Juddmonte's president. “I'd recently qualified as a vet and there was a mare needing stitching at Plantation Stud. David Cecil had the twitch and Tim held her tail. We became friends from then.

“I kept in touch through his career, whether he was in South Africa, France or wherever  and then I was delighted when he got the job at Keeneland. He was one of the standouts. We might not have talked for a while but then we'd speak and be right back where we started. I'll miss him greatly.”

Following his retirement from Keeneland in 2012, he was never happier than with his family and dogs at home. As well as his beloved grandchildren, he leaves a wife, Rossy, a son Harry and daughters Charlotte, a former accomplished amateur rider, and Annabel, who is married to Dukes Stud owner Charlie Wyatt.

Funeral details will be announced at a later date.

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