Newspaper article International New York Times

Champion Winemaker Has Eyes on Roses ; for Carpe Diem's Owner, the Derby Winners' Circle Has Been an Elusive Goal

Newspaper article International New York Times

Champion Winemaker Has Eyes on Roses ; for Carpe Diem's Owner, the Derby Winners' Circle Has Been an Elusive Goal

Article excerpt

Having inherited her late husband's winery and taste for horses, Barbara Banke hopes to get Stonestreet Farms into the Kentucky Derby's winners' circle.

They are ethereal pursuits, creating wine and fast thoroughbreds. Both require vision. Both take time. Both are at the mercy of Mother Nature. When you get it right, the rewards are lofty -- a wine that scores 100 points or a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby.

Barbara Banke entered each business with her husband, Jess Jackson, who died in 2011. Together, they saw 15 of the Jackson Family Wines score 100 and be deemed a classic. They did all right on the racetrack and in the sales ring, too, campaigning Curlin and the filly Rachel Alexandra to Horse of the Year titles and establishing Stonestreet Farms as a top producer of quality horses.

The Derby winners' circle, however, has been more elusive. In fact, getting a horse in the race has been a chore. In 2007, Curlin was sent off as the second choice but found trouble from his inside post before recovering to finish third. He went on to win the Preakness Stakes and enough premier races to be recognized as the best racehorse in North America for that year and the next, 2008.

But the Derby is the Derby, and on Saturday, Banke hopes to top that achievement by meeting a colt named Carpe Diem after the race in the most coveted real estate in the sport, where she can hoist a trophy and he can be fitted with a blanket of roses.

They are going to need some luck; even though Carpe Diem has won four of his five races impressively, this is as deep a field as the Derby has seen in decades. It is topped by an undefeated colt, Dortmund, and another, American Pharoah, who has dazzled in winning his previous four races by a combined 22 lengths.

Luck and patience, of course, are staples of the wine business, too.

"You can believe that a piece of ground will be great for pinot noir, but it takes eight years to see it in the bottle," Banke said. "We are farmers, which means we are dependent on the weather, but like with the horses, there is hope. Every year, there's a new crop."

When Jackson died in 2011, many in the horse business wondered if Banke would turn her back on a sport that her husband had spent the better part of a decade upending.

Jackson was a showman with a righteous streak. He wrote oversize checks for first Curlin and then Rachel Alexandra, after they had shown their talent on the racetrack. He then set out imaginative campaigns for them, showing them off from Kentucky to New York and New Jersey to Dubai.

But Jackson also successfully lobbied for legislation here that helped clean up the back-room shenanigans of horse-trading, where what was called a "commission" often looked more like a bribe or a kickback. He filed a lawsuit laying out how he claimed to have been defrauded in horse sales, and he dragged in prominent breeders, including a former Kentucky governor, for uncomfortable depositions. …

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