Bridget Oppenheimer, born Bridget McCall in 1921, married Harry Oppenheimer when she was a signals lieutenant on Robben Island.
Harry was chairman of Anglo American Corporation for 25 years, and chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines for 27 years, and was a member of Parliament for Kimberley during 1948-1957.
Following Harry’s return from the war, the couple got involved in horse-racing during the 1940’s.
Racing in the now famous black and yellow silks, Bridget and Harry bred and raced a host of great horses. Based at their Mauritzfontein Stud, originally a remount station, the Oppenheimers also stood many leading sires during their time. This list included Janus, Wilwyn, Free Ride, and Fort Wood, while another successful Oppenheimer owned sire was the ill-fated Strike Smartly. Wilwyn, who headed the sires list in 1964, left behind numerous top-class horses including the Oppenheimer bred and raced July winner, King Willow, while Janus sired one of the first Oppenheimer champions – Tiger Fish.
Fort Wood, whose son Kindle won Tuesday’s Listed Java Handicap, was champion sire in South Africa in 1998, and champion sire of broodmares in 2013. He has had a huge influence on the South African stud book, with his offspring including three sons named Horse of the Year. Fort Wood, a great broodmare sire, is also the sire of successful local stallions Dynasty and Horse Chestnut. To date, the beautifully bred son of Sadler’s Wells has produced 72 stakes winners – 14 of which are Grade One winners. Fort Wood is also broodmare sire of a Breeders Cup winner – Pluck.
The most recent introduction to the Mauriztfontein Stud, which is currently managed by Guy Murdoch, is the beautifully bred Ideal World (Kingmambo – Banks Hill), whose first crop race this season.
Few, if any, have enjoyed such a dominant record in an important classic, as did the Oppenheimers in the South African Oaks. The 2450m Turffontein classic fell to them on more than 12 occasions.
Mrs Oppenheimer, or Mrs O as she was lovingly known by her many fans, most recently captured the Oaks in 2013, when her subsequent Equus Champion Cherry On The Top won the SA Oaks by a length and a quarter from subsequent July third, Do You Remember.
Like the majority of the champions raced by the Oppenheimers, Cherry On The Top is a home bred.
The Oppenheimers also won South Africa’s most famous race, the Durban July Handicap, six times, most recently with the Fort Wood gelding, Hunting Tower, back in 2007.
Other Oppenheimer owned July winners were Tiger Fish, King Willow, Principal Boy, Spanish Galliard, and Greys Inn. The latter is now a successful stallion in his own right.
However, the greatest horse bred by Bridget and Harry Oppenheimer was unquestionably the mighty Horse Chestnut. The last winner of the South African Triple Crown and a brilliant winner of the J&B Met as a 3yo, Horse Chestnut was also the first winner, and stakes winner, for his sire, Fort Wood.
Sent to North America, Horse Chestnut won his only start there, the Gr3 Broward Handicap, in brilliant fashion, but had to retire after suffering an injury during training. Following a successful stint at the famous Claiborne Farm, Horse Chestnut returned to South Africa, and is currently a promising sire at Drakenstein Stud.
Following the death of Harry in 2000, Bridget Oppenheimer continued to enjoy plenty of success on the turf.
Her major wins since 2000 included a remarkable 1-2 in the 2009 Gold Cup, when Mokaro beat Noblewood by 1.25 lengths.
Major solo successes for Mrs O also included the SA Derby (with Bouquet-Garni), SA Classic (Forest Path), Emerald Cup (Iron Curtain), and Premier’s Trophy (Cask). Her recent runners include the top-class half-sisters Cherry On The Top and Cherry On The Cake, as well as star sprinter Franny.
Despite the huge success enjoyed by the Oppenheimers, originally plans were for Mauritzfontein to become a polo pony stud – but things quickly changed!
Bridget became a hugely popular and well loved figure on the race track. Her many adoring fans came to know Mrs O as the Queen Of The Turf, and the First Lady of Racing.
She leaves behind two children, Mary and Nicky, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mary Slack is one of South Africa’s most successful breeders. Her Wilgerbosdrift has produced a long line of champions including the likes of Dynasty, Kildonan and Noordhoek Flyer – all of whom are now standing at stud.
Wilgerbosdrift is also home to leading sire Tiger Ridge – himself sire of Cherry On The Top.
Mary’s daughter, Jessica, is also an enthusiastic and knowledgeable equestrian, who is posed to continue the family’s remarkable success on the South African turf.