Fair honors Jess Jackson with race
By HOWARD SENZELL / Towns Correspondent
In the 13 weeks since Jess Jackson passed away, Barbara Banke has received testimonials from around the world praising her husband. However, the honor that touched her the most was one from her Sonoma County neighbors.
The fair directors voted to name a race to honor the co-founder of Kendall-Jackson Wines and one of the most successful owners in the world of thoroughbred racing.
On August 6, the second Saturday of the fair, the inaugural $50,000 Jess Jackson Stakes will be run.
“My family and I were so very touched when we heard,” Banke said. “He would have been so proud, as this was the community that he chose to call home.”
Tawny Tesconi, the fair’s manager, said the board wanted to do something big to honor Jackson’s memory after he died following a three-year battle with a rare form of skin cancer.
“It’s a worthy tribute to someone who has committed so much to Sonoma County and thoroughbred racing,” she said.
In the last eight years of his life, Jackson became a titan in the racing world. For three consecutive years he backed North America’s Horse of the Year, Curlin in 2007-08 and the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
When he died at age 81, there was speculation the empire would be dispersed.
Banke, 56, is now the company’s chairman of the board and has put those concerns to rest.
“Our plan is to move forward at a steady pace,” Banke said. “Horses were one of Jess’ great passions, and the fact that Jess was buying horses the week before he passed away is a testament to his level of commitment to the sport.
“I very much enjoy the racing and the breeding end, as Jess did. I don’t see any decrease. I even see Stonestreet (the family stable’s name and Jess’ middle name) becoming multi-generational some day.”
The Jacksons own approximately 300 thoroughbreds, and the ranks increased earlier this month.
On July 12, Banke purchased a filly for $220,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sales in Lexington, Ky., and the following day, she and longtime family friend, George Bolton, spent $310,000 to purchase the day’s sales-topper.
“Jess and I were partners in all aspects of our businesses, including horse racing,” Banke said. “Like everything else Jess did, he bred and raced horses with both pragmatism and passion.
“I have tried to do the same and plan to continue to do so as we look forward to running some great horses in the years to come.”
Banke and Jackson married in 1984 and have three children together. All three have great interest and love for horse racing, Banke said.
“Now they see it in a different light, as a way to connect with the memory of their father,” she added.
Bolton, who lives in San Francisco, is sure Banke will continue the stable’s winning ways.
“Being around Barbara is so much fun,” he told Daily Racing Form. “In one word, she’s a winner. She loves her family…and she loves everything about the game (racing).
“When it comes to making a big decision, you don’t have to worry about Barbara. She’s capable of making it.”
Banke’s schedule is hectic as she juggles her time between the winery and the horses. Still, she is looking forward to the Sonoma County Fair which runs for three weeks beginning July 27.
“County fairs, and in particular the Sonoma County Fair, are among my favorite yearly traditions,” she said.
“There is no other place that I can think of where virtually all of Sonoma County gets together simply to have a great time. It’s a fun and relaxed way to catch up with old friends and hopefully to make some new ones.
“My family and I just love to spend an afternoon walking through the Hall of Flowers, seeing all of the animals and of course, sampling the delicious food.”
The Jackson family schedules three trips each summer to the fair.
“We were never able to attend as much as we would like due to its proximity the harvest,” she said. “Whenever we were able to get away from the winery, we enjoyed it.”
The Jackson silks haven’t been seen at the fair in six years and, since the family doesn’t have a division in Northern California, they will not have a horse competing at this year’s 15-day meet.
“The last one we raced here was Hartford Court,” Banke said. “He didn’t win, but maybe in the future we’ll have a chance to win one in front of the home crowd.
“That would be a thrill.”