Bursting with Pride Of Jenni

26 March 2024 Written by Michael Sharkie

The incredible story of Pride Of Jenni’s Group 1 triumphs in the TAB Empire Rose Stakes and the TAB Champions Stakes is a tale of racing dreams, familial bonds, and a poignant tribute to a lost loved one.

As summer settled on Melbourne, Flemington returned to a state of normalcy. The Lexus Melbourne Cup had been run and won, the record books were updated, the carnival was celebrated, and hangovers were nursed. But for one owner, Cup Week celebrations continued to simmer to the point where one wondered if they would ever truly stop.

Tony Ottobre admitted his feet took some time to touch the ground following a week at Flemington that even the most ambitious thoroughbred owners could only ever exist in

“I’m still over the moon, it was incredible, unbelievable, I’m still smiling. She is a once-in-a-lifetime horse and it was once-in-a-lifetime week,” he said.

The ‘she’ that Ottobre refers to is Pride Of Jenni, a six year old mare by Pride Of Dubai trained by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace that delivered the Ottobre family their biggest success in racing when she claimed an incredible Flemington double, winning the Group 1 TAB Empire Rose Stakes and Group 1 TAB Champions Stakes within seven days.

“She has promised to win a Group 1 race for a while now and has gone close. But to win two within a week, and at Flemington, well, how do you describe that? It really is the stuff of dreams,” Ottobre said.

As a younger man, Ottobre dreamed of success in the saddle. Admittedly, built like a jockey, he had the courage and the will, but by his own recognition he lacked the talent to make a career of it.

“I was an apprentice and rode for about four years. I rode for Pat Bourke at Flemington, leading Victorian trainer Brian Courtney, and Bobby Winks, I think I ran third once. I was far from the best, but I gave it a good go,” he said.

“I ran into Colin Hayes one morning at Flemington and he invited me to Lindsay Park at Angaston to ride work and help with breakers and race day strapping duties. It was an amazing experience and I learned from him that in life if you do the best, the best will come to you. It’s a lesson I’ve always remembered.”

Although forever bitten by the racing bug, Ottobre moved away from the sport in the late 1970s and into the automotive industry where he set about learning a new trade.

“I got into LED lighting for trucks, trailers and buses and started a business called LED Technologies. Over time we grew to become the number-one in our field in Australia, and
during Covid we were approached by a big firm from the US who put forward a potential buy-out,” he said.

“It was a big opportunity. Lynn and I discussed it and thought why not, it would give us the opportunity to really have some fun and invest in our passions, and after what we’d been
through as a family that made a lot of sense.”

In 2015 Ottobre, his wife Lynn and son Michael were left utterly heartbroken by the death of daughter and sister Jennifer, who tragically lost her battle with brain cancer.

Given a bleak outlook of a nine-to-twelve-month life expectancy when first diagnosed, Jennifer fought bravely and lived for another four years, marrying her husband Luke in the months before she passed away. It was a challenging but inspiring time for the family, and a reminder that life should be enjoyed and celebrated.

As a tribute to Jennifer’s memory, the Ottobres named a young High Chaparral filly Jennifer Lynn after their daughter. On the day the filly became their first stakes winner when winning the Listed Lexus Hybrid on Melbourne Cup Day in 2016, they took a rainbow on the morning of the race as a sign that Jennifer approved.

In a position to expand their racing interests following the sale of LED Technologies, that tribute quickly grew to a team of 30 horses, most of whom carry Jenni as a part of their name.

“When you lose a child, it’s totally devastating. What gave me comfort during that time was the horses, so we decided we would name our fillies after Jenni. As a family it bonds us and brings us closer together, we can remember her and celebrate her,” he explained.

Fast forward a few years to the 2019 Inglis Classic Sale and the Ottobre’s Cape Schanck Stud secured a filly by Pride Of Dubai from the O’Reilly mare Sancerre for $100,000. Bred
by Brent and Cherry Taylor of New Zealand’s famed Trelawney Stud, the filly certainly had the background to make it on the racetrack.

“When it comes to buying a horse, I put a lot of weight on the influence of the mare. I love Zabeel, High Chaparral, O’Reilly, and Pride Of Jenni has both Zabeel and O’Reilly
there on her dam side, and she came from one of New Zealand’s best breeders, so I was immediately interested in her. On type she looked like a filly that would get a mile and
further and that’s what I love to race. For me she was perfect all over,” he explained.

But despite showing early promise and winning two of her first five starts, coaxing a Group 1 out of the mare was a little more difficult and would require a couple of changes
of environment.

A well-deserved pat after the Kennedy Champions Mile triumph. (Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

“We started her with David Brideoake and then Symon Wilde before we moved the mare to Ciaron (Maher) and Dave (Eustace). Nothing against David or Symon at all, they are very good trainers, but I made the decisions in the best interests of the mare at the time. I felt that she wasn’t giving us everything she had, I wanted to try and find the key to her. For me,
the horse always comes first.”

The decision to relocate Pride Of Jenni for a third time would prove to be an inspired one. A winner at her second start for Maher and Eustace, Pride Of Jenni had found her
happy place, with a close second placing in the Group 1 Coolmore Classic, it was a sign that she had gone to a new level.

It was all systems go for a spring campaign towards the Empire Rose, a race that fell just five days after Jennifer’s birthday on October 30.

“The whole preparation was built around the Empire Rose. It was the one we wanted. I’m not superstitious at all but going into the race, there were little signs that Jenni was with
us, that maybe this was the day.”

“We booked Declan Bates to ride and I found out his wife’s name is Jennifer. Then he told me he lost his father in 2015, the same year we lost our Jenni. You know what his father’s name was? Michael, our son’s name. If it wasn’t planned for us all to be together with this mare, I’ll go hee!”

Bates would go on to produce two of the best front-running rides at Flemington in recent memory, crossing the field from the outside barrier to lead throughout in the Empire Rose before catching some of the best horses in the country napping in the Champions Stakes.

But Ottobre suspects that the jockey may have had company in the saddle.

“Jenni was riding with him, I’ve got no doubt. But Declan was just magic for the mare, what a combination. Someone is telling me that he has the ride for life and I’m not arguing. Who can say what she is capable of now, heaven only knows.”