RACING enthusiasts active on Twitter and Facebook will have noticed the joy and passion evident in Jessica Slack’s postings, especially when her Mauritzfontein Stud has a winner. Just this Sunday Jessica was again truly elated after Mauritzfontein-bred Cape Speed had won the Gr3 Track and Ball Derby at Scottsville. “Mega congrats to Dean K, Khaya Stables and Antony Delpech. We are over the moon with excitement!” she rang out in the Twittersphere.
Some would think that winning a horse race would be something just a margin above the mundane for a family who has enjoyed literally thousands of winners in almost eight decades of racing, including 14 Oaks victories, 6 Durban July successes, a Triple Crown and a Triple Tiara. This is simply not so. Every new winner is as exciting as the previous and there are a few triumphs that can still take Jessica Slack and her mother Mary to heights of dizzy delight!
Mary owns Wilgerbosdrift Stud, a huge success in its own right – and over the last few years she’s helped Jessica to settle in and has assisted her with the management and re-building of Mauritzfontein. There is no competition between them, Jessica tells. It’s all in the family, they support and encourage each other with the ideal of maintaining Mauritzfontein as a leading breeder in this important period of transition after Grandma Bridget Oppenheimer’s passing away, and then to aim at the top.
Mother and daughter still watch plenty of races together on the big screen at Mary’s Blue Skies Residence in the north of Johannesburg, where she moved into after “Mrs O” died in October 2013. The late Matriarch just loved sitting in her lounge watching races and sipping wine – it’s one of the traditions happily honoured by her family, sometimes with friends if they have a number of runners around the country and they’re unable to be trackside.
“We also still enjoy naming our horses like Grandma did. It takes research and it’s a lot of fun finding the best suitable names for our yearlings. We bounce names off each other, which becomes especially interesting after a few glasses of red wine,” Jessica laughs.
Everyone always kind of assumed that Jessica would be the one to take over the massive Mauritzfontein operation when Grandma Bridget was no longer there. Jessica was, quietly, the “Chosen One” – in the minds of the racing public, anyway.
She relates, however, that her taking over Mauritzfontein was never officially stipulated, it happened in the course of time and on conclusion of Mrs Oppenheimer’s estate. “Grandma never once spoke to me about this, but she did leave me a note. She wrote: ‘It’s very tricky to sell your horses, people think when you sell your horses they are duds.’
“We take all our colts to the auctions, we give buyers the opportunity to buy the best. We will only race our colts who are passed unsold, or those whose legs are not as straight as they should be and are not in demand .”
Among the fillies, Jessica has enjoyed sensational early success with Ideal World’s daughter Smart Call, a runaway winner of the 2016 J&B Met for trainer Alec Laird, until recently in the Top 20 runners on the Longines World Rankings and soon on her way to the US via the UK.
She tells: “Smart Call will be travelling from the quarantine facility in Mauritius to Abington Place at Newmarket this week and Steven Jell will be awaiting her, and the Mike de Kock travellers, to help them settle in. Alec has a prep run planned for her in October and after that we hope to go to the Breeders’ Cup in the US in November. We’re holding thumbs, Alec’s a genius and if all goes well we will have a runner in the Turf Race at Santa Anita Park. We know how hard it is for fillies to travel, so we’re taking things step by step. What must happen, will happen.”
International travel and sales auctions worldwide are things that come with the Mauritzfontein Mantle, which now hangs squarely over small shoulders. She’s a petite person, Jessica, but a big heart beats in her chest and she’s ready for all challenges. Inheriting a thoroughbred dynasty is one thing, making it work is another.
“I’m not under any illusions,” she says about the work that lies ahead. “We are not resting on any laurels. Grandma was 92 when she died, in her last years she didn’t travel all that much and couldn’t get to the farm that often. She liked to keep siblings of siblings, brothers and sisters. We will always be big on successful families, but we’re streamlining things, we’ve culled the bloodstock a bit. We’re also upgrading the farm, there is plenty to do and it’s not going to happen by itself. We want a formidable band of broodmares. We have a great team at Mauritzfontein and we’ll make things happen together. “
Jessica has high praise for Guy Murdoch, whom they were lucky to acquire as Stud Manager after he’d left Gary Player Stud five years ago. “Guy is a champion,” she says. “He was responsible for the mating that produced Smart Call and he does most of the matings now, with some advice from our associate Jehan Malherbe of Form Bloodstock. Nigel Page is also still on the farm, he has been with us for over 20 years and is a stalwart of the operation.
“I’ve learnt a lot from these experts in my few years of close involvement and I continue to learn every day. I think Jehan must be shrugging his shoulders every time I phone for advice, I do that so often. But I intend spending more time in Kimberley, I want to get even more intimately involved because I love it on the farm. I enjoy all aspects of this business. I’m going to Mauritzfontein this coming weekend and I will be back again after the Durban July.”
Jessica has so far managed the Mauritzfontein consignments at three National Yearling Sales and she comments: “I’m having so much fun watching our current runners, I had nothing to do with most of them as youngsters. But soon the young horses I helped to raise and took to the sales, will be runners stepping out on various racetracks. I can’t wait, it’s going to be so exciting.”
At only 36, Jessica Slack has many great years ahead of her. “I have given thee the power of flight without wings”, reads a Bedouin Legend in reference to the Noble Thoroughbred, on the Mauritzfontein website. It’s a suitable reference, also, to the new Patron of Mauritzfontein. She’s already flying high, and looking to go higher!