Owner Jess Jackson Dies at Age 81
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Jess Jackson

Winemaker and prominent Thoroughbred owner Jess Jackson, whose Stonestreet Stable campaigned Rachel Alexandra and Curlin   in partnership, died April 21 after a lengthy illness. He was 81.

According to a spokeswoman for Jackson’s company, the cause was cancer. He died at his home in Geyserville, Calif. Jackson is survived by his wife, Barbara Banke, five children:  Jennifer Hartford, Laura Giron, Katie Jackson, Julia Jackson and Christopher Jackson.

Link to Letter posted on Kendall-Jackson web site

Jackson, who founded the Kendall-Jackson Winery and headed the Jackson Family wineries, played an influential role in American racing by campaigning Horses of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Curlin. In addition to his successful racing stable, Jackson was also important in helping reform the equine agent system in North America. He and Banke also supported many charitable causes, both within and outside the horse industry.

Raced in partnership by Jackson and Harold T. McCormick, Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old filly, was retired in late 2010 with 13 victories and five seconds in 19 races. She earned $3,506,730. During her spotless eight-race campaign in 2009, Rachel Alexandra defeated fillies by more than 20 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and 19 lengths in the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) and she also beat males in the grade I Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward. Off the track, the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro   helped raise money for cancer research, education, and other charitable causes.

Rachel Alexandra was bred this year and has been pronounced in foal to Curlin, the 2007-08 Horse of the Year who is the all-time leading North American earner. Jackson raced Curlin in partnership with Padua Stables, George Bolton, and Midnight Cry Stables.

Richard Getty, a friend who represented Jackson on equine legal matters, said Jackson will be sorely missed.

“I think he was a great man. Personally he meant a lot to me. I hope those in the industry realize what a good and decent man he was and what good he tried to bring about,” Getty said. “Those who bring change sometimes aren’t fully appreciated until they’re gone. I think he is one of the more important people in the horse industry in the last decade. I was lucky enough to know him on a personal level and considered him one of my best friends. My only regret is I didn’t get to see him at the end. He will be greatly missed.”

Getty recalled that the last time he saw Jackson was earlier this year when Albergatti, a Triple Crown nominee owned by Stonestreet in partnership with Getty’s Natrona Racing Stable, ran in a race.

Although Albergatti did not win that day, Getty had an enjoyable experience with his friend.

“I made (Jackson) laugh that day, even though we lost the race. It was more important to me to make him laugh than to win the race."

Off the track, Jackson was involved in a lengthy lawsuit against several agents, alleging fraud in the purchase of horses on his behalf. The suit was eventually settled with Emmanuel de Seroux agreeing to pay Jackson $3.5 million, and Jackson's actions against the agents led to reforms and greater transparency in some states.

In a statement, Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said:

“Jess Jackson left an indelible mark on Thoroughbred racing in a relatively short period of time. He was outspoken in his calls for a high degree of integrity in our sport and industry. But he will perhaps be best remembered for his exploits as head of Stonestreet Stables, which campaigned many outstanding horses including two-time Horse of the Year winner, Curlin, and one of the great fillies of all time, Rachel Alexandra. 

"He was one of the most sporting owners of his generation, insisting on racing Curlin in 2008 at age four when there was little more to prove athletically and a financial temptation to retire him to stud.  What transpired was an inspiring 2008 campaign for Curlin—and yet another reminder of what Jess routinely achieved with his wonderful combination of wisdom and passion. He will be missed. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to Barbara Banke, his wife and partner, and to the whole Jackson family who participated fully in the many successes of Stonestreet Stables.”

John Sabini, chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, said in a statement:

“I was deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of Jess Jackson, an avid and dedicated horseman who made New York a second home to two superstars of Thoroughbred racing, Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. Mr. Jackson was a passionate advocate for the welfare of horses involved in the sport of kings. His wife, Barbara Banke, their three children and the entire family have our deepest sympathies at this difficult time.”

Said New York Racing Association president and CEO Charles Hayward: “Jess Jackson was a true sportsman with a great passion for thoroughbred racing. His smart and ambitious management of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra’s racing careers resulted in a number of unforgettable performances at Belmont Park and Saratoga. Rachel’s extraordinary 2009 Woodward victory in front of more than 30,000 cheering fans at Saratoga remains one of my best memories in racing. It will not be the same without his presence at the NYRA tracks, and he will be deeply missed throughout the industry.”

Said Nick Nicholson, Keeneland president and CEO: “We are saddened to learn of the death of Jess Jackson. He was the consummate competitor who made everyone around him raise their game when they shared an arena with him—whether it be in a vineyard or at the racetrack. He loved his horses and enjoyed his time in Kentucky. I admired his integrity and his passion for excellence. I admired his willingness to challenge the status quo. But most of all, I admired him as a person. Our sport is better because of his participation in it. Our sympathy goes out to his family during this difficult time.”

Keeneland vice president of sales Walt Robertson added, “When I think of Jess Jackson, I think of tenacity. He demanded excellence of himself and everyone around him and would not settle for anything less. He was a success-driven man whose accomplishments are staggeringly impressive. He often told us as an industry not what we wanted to hear, but what we needed to hear. It takes a strong man to do that. We will miss him. Our condolences go to his wife Barbara and the rest of him family.”

Churchill Downs Inc. chairman-elect and chief executive officer Robert Evans also issued the following statement following Jackson's death: “Churchill Downs Inc. employees across the country were deeply saddened by the news of Jess Jackson’s passing. Mr. Jackson set a high standard for Thoroughbred horse ownership in the United States and abroad, and his competitive spirit made for some of horse racing’s most memorable moments this century. 

"The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks were fortunate to count among their contenders Horses of the Year Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, whose on-track exploits brought new fans to our sport and created thousands of devoted followers. We send our sincere condolences to Mr. Jackson’s family, friends, and his respective teams at Stonestreet Stables, Buckram Oak Farm, and Kendall-Jackson winery who we know will greatly miss him.”

Antony Beck, owner of Gainesway Farm, said Jackson's death is "a tremendous loss for our industry and me personally."

"Jess Jackson was a visionary who led by example and held fast to his convictions throughout an extraordinary life," Beck said. "He brought an unparalleled passion to Thoroughbred breeding and racing and his passing is  He had great integrity and did whatever he could for racing fans everywhere."

While Rachel Alexandra and Curlin were the most prominent horses raced by Stonestreet, the stable and its owner were represented by many other graded stakes winners. Individually or in partnership, Stonestreet raced grade I winner Gozzip Girl, grade II winners Kensei, Springside, Striking Dancer, Tiz Wonderful  , and Kantharos  , as well as grade III winners Strike It Rich, Bold Union, El Roblar, and Astrology  , the latter a Triple Crown nominee of 2011.

“First and foremost, he was a true sportsman,” said Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, who was a key advisor to Jackson. “He’s probably the biggest sportsman we’ve seen come into our business in recent years and he may have been the last true sportsman. We’ve seen new owners come and new owners go, but I’m not sure we’ve seen the sportsman side of an owner like he displayed in wanting to keep horses in training longer. He thought that was great for the sport. He thought that was great for the racing public to garner interest and keep the racing stars on the racetrack longer.

“He loved the racing and I think everything he did within the sport always stemmed from his desire and his passion to make it better. The new legislation that he (worked to get) enacted came about because he wanted to make the marketplace better.

“He wanted to race horses at the highest level and he also, through his commercial breeding operation, wanted to produce a superior product just like he did in the wine business. He wanted his horses that he sold to be the best they could possibly be for the end user or the consumer.

“We achieved a lot. To win three Horse of the Year titles over the span of three years is a very difficult task. We also sold the highest-priced yearling (at public auction in North America) in 2008 -- an A.P. Indy filly out of Chimichurri that topped the Keeneland September yearling sale for $3.1 million. She was a byproduct of our breeding program. He and (his wife) Barbara (Banke) achieved success at the highest levels with both their breeding operation and their racing stable.

“We started buying mares together in 2005 and a lot of the foals that we’ve bred out of them are just starting to get to the racetrack. I wish he could see them; that’s the only thing that makes me sad. He had so much pride when Astrology won a graded stakes last year. He was a horse that we ended up keeping, but he (Jackson) would have been just as proud if someone else had bought him (the horse) and they had achieved success on the racetrack. It’s a tough day.”

 
 

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