Many know her as a descendent of Hawaiian royalty, a philanthropist and an activist known for freely giving to Native Hawaiian causes and institutions.
Fewer know Abigail Kawananakoa as a champion racehorse breeder and owner.
It’s a side of the Campbell Estate heiress that has rarely found the spotlight in the islands, where horse racing tracks are nonexistent and news of the sport of kings is scarce.
Yet three months ago Kawananakoa was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Jacksonville, Fla.
Lately, however, it hasn’t been all Champagne and roses for Kawananakoa, who is locked in a high-profile dispute over the control of her $215 million estate with her former attorney.
Just two weeks after she was given the quarter horse industry’s highest honor, it was revealed in court that she is losing
$4 million a year on her breeding, racing and ranching operations.
Turns out it’s an expensive hobby for the 92-year-old — and it’s one she might have to give up as the Probate Court grapples with liquidity issues for the asset-rich, relatively cash-poor heiress.
Kawananakoa landed in court after suffering a stroke in June 2017. Her then-attorney, James Wright, petitioned the court to give him control of the estate in a move that was spelled out in a successorship plan previously set up by the heiress in case she became incapacitated.
But Veronica Gail Worth, Kawananakoa’s life partner of more than 20 years and now her wife, came forward to challenge the declaration, insisting that Kawananakoa is mentally capable of handling her own affairs. Worth is seeking to return control of the trust to Kawananakoa.
Circuit Judge R. Mark Browning has appointed a special master to evaluate the circumstances surrounding the dispute and, with the help of a medical expert, to determine whether Kawananakoa is competent to manage her financial affairs, able to change the terms of the trust or replace the trustee.
The next hearing in the matter is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday in Browning’s
At stake is a $215 million estate — at least half of which is expected to fund the Abigail K.K. Kawananakoa Foundation, which was set up by Kawananakoa to become a charity to underwrite Native Hawaiian causes following her death.
Also part of her estate is her ranching and quarter horse operations, which include ownership of a 15-acre horse ranch in Nuevo, Calif., and a smaller one in Washington state. The Nuevo ranch, called Lakeview Quarter Horse Farm, is in rural Riverside County and has 22 employees.
A lifelong equestrian, Kawananakoa bred her first quarter horse in 1980 and, before the decade was out, produced her first stakes winner, the first of more than 40 stakes winners and nearly 300 other winners over the decades.
By the 1990s Kawananakoa’s success made her
a superstar owner and breeder in the quarter horse racing game.
Her stallion, A Classic Dash, won the All American Futurity, the richest and most prestigious of all American quarter horse races, in 1993. In 1995 her horse Evening Snow broke a 27-year record to become “the fastest horse in the world.”
Along the way she would win five world championships and consecutive titles as champion owner in 1994 and 1995.
Kawananakoa, known in her quarter horse community as “Miss Abigail,” is the industry’s all-time leading female breeder and has produced earners of more than $10 million, according to the American Quarter Horse
“Horses have always been the next-most important thing in the world to me, besides my friends and Hawaii,” she is quoted as saying on her Hall of Fame web page. “What can I say? I’m catching the rainbow.”
Most, if not all, of her top racing achievements came in the 1990s. But her participation in the sport didn’t end there. Since the year 2000, Kawananakoa’s horses have made 1,465 starts, with 215 first-place finishes, 218 seconds and 185 thirds. Total earnings are $3,514,797 for an average per start of $2,399, according to the Equibase horse racing statistics website.
While last year was her best since 2000, with earnings of more than $500,000, so far this year she’s accumulated $34,710 in winnings, Equibase said.
Kawananakoa isn’t the only one in her household who races quarter horses. Equibase lists Worth as a “multiple graded stakes placed” owner who has won nearly $500,000 since 2000. Last year was her best, with nearly $114,000 in winnings.
In probate court recently attorneys for the various parties discussed the possibility of selling Kawananakoa’s horse-racing assets to help pay her extensive bills.
Worth’s attorney, Michael Rudy, argued against selling the ranches, saying their annual $4 million in operational costs represents only about 40 percent of her annual expenses of nearly
$10 million. They also provide the estate a healthy tax credit, he said.
“The horse farms are not really the issue,” Rudy said, adding that Kawananakoa is a philanthropist who has a tendency to be overly generous. “The real issue is how to refinance the debt and get the spending down.”