Jess Jackson, the founder of the Kendall-Jackson winery and a prominent thoroughbred owner, has died of cancer.

He was 81.

In recent years, Jackson was one of horse racing’s leading owners.

He campaigned two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, then purchased Rachel Alexandra, the sensational filly who was Horse of the Year in 2009.

As a California vintner, Jackson built a multimillion-dollar empire on chardonnay with his popular Kendall-Jackson brand before moving into the racehorse business with his Stonestreet Stable.

A letter on his company’s website ended by asking friends to “take a moment this week to lift a glass and join us in a toast to our friend and founder Jess Jackson.”

So I will do so.

Jackson’s biggest splash in racing came with Rachel Alexandra.

He bought her days after her record-setting win in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks, then entered her in the Preakness, where she became the first filly in 85 years to capture the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Rachel Alexandra went on to beat the boys in the Haskell Invitational and the Woodward Stakes on her way to Horse of the Year honors.

She was retired in the summer of 2010 and was bred to Curlin in February.

A familiar figure in wine country, with his strong-boned face and shock of white hair, Jackson packed three careers into his long life: He retired from a law practice to build his wine company, then jumped into horse racing.

Jackson was born in Los Angeles in 1930 and raised in San Francisco.

Jackson’s wine career began when he bought an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport, ostensibly for relaxation. But it wasn’t long before he felt the lure of winemaking.

He converted the orchard into a vineyard and founded Kendall-Jackson Winery in 1982. (Jane Kendall was his first wife.)

Jackson raced thoroughbreds for a time in the 1960s with an uncle but didn’t enter the sport on a larger scale until 2003.

He named his horse farms and racing operation Stonestreet Stables after his father; it also was Jackson’s middle name.

 

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