'It's the most fun thing I've ever done - I understand why people skydive now'
Have you heard of Jessica Paquette? The chances are the answer is no. It would have been mine too, before last Thursday.
I could start by saying what she does, but it is probably easier to say what she doesn't do.
Paquette, 36, a keen equestrian and runner, is director of communications for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in the United States, a racing analyst for Colonial Downs and Sam Houston racecourses and historian at Suffolk Downs.
Last week she added commentator – or, as they call it Stateside, announcer – to that extensive list, despite having only called one race publicly before.
That too was a chance opportunity at Suffolk Downs in 2014 when a tornado had forced east Boston into shutdown and the usual announcer was stuck in traffic. Paquette was among the only people at the course and had to break into the commentary box – she said she didn't have any time to be nervous as she became the first woman in New England to call a race.
Angela Hermann became the first woman to call a full card at Golden Gate Fields ten years ago, but female racecallers in America have been few and far between since.
Paquette, a self-professed 'weird horse girl' whose family had no connection to the sport, became the first woman in Texas to call a race when covering quarter horse racing at Sam Houston on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week.
Filling in as one of the weekly guest announcers, she called 21 races after lightning forced Thursday's card to be abandoned after one race.
Paquette heralded the achievement as one of her top three all-time great professional and personal moments, and was still flying high when I contacted her on Monday.
"It's the most fun thing I've ever done," she said. "It was exhilarating. I'm not really a thrill-seeker, it was an adrenaline rush that I'd never experienced. I understand why people skydive now.
"I'm really grateful for them for taking the opportunity on a woman because I know that's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. I understand it sounds very different."
Paquette, who credited fellow track announcer and friend Jason Beem for his help, reports the response has been largely positive. She also acknowledges how unique an achievement it was.
"I didn't want to just go and be a woman doing this as a gimmick," she said. "I wanted to be serviceably good at it. I don't want to ever be a novelty in this sport, even though being a woman in this sport is apparently still a novelty in 2021.
"I think it never occurred to some women that this was even a possibility for us, which is kind of sad that in this day and age there's still firsts for women to be having in sports, and not just racing."
Paquette believes sexism in American horseracing is being tackled but still has a long way to go, along with racism. She also believes we can all do better than we are doing.
She said: "I hope maybe there's a little kid watching and they go, 'Hey, I can be an announcer, that's cool'. It's an honour to play even a little role in paving the way to making racing more inclusive."
When asked what her advice would be to others considering opportunities within the sport, she highlighted confidence as being key.
"Everything good in my life has come from horses," she said. "They have taken me places and to do things that I never thought were possible. You just have to believe in yourself, the more confidence you have the better it goes. And say yes! Come from a place of yes."
Adayar - the King George needs you!
I was delighted when Charlie Appleby announced the King George would be Adayar's target after the strapping colt blew his rivals away in the Derby at Epsom on Saturday.
It just so happens I had been watching replays of the race when writing this on Monday morning and, as Tom Segal has told me many times, it is true the race is not what it was.
Even since I've been in racing the King George has gone downhill. I distinctly remember watching Harbinger stroll away from two Derby winners and three-time Arc runner-up Youmzain in 2010, while the wonderful German filly Danedream and tenacious Nathaniel engaged in a memorable duel two years later.
I'm a big fan of international competition and that is one thing needed to make it an all-star King George.
The legendary Ribot won the race for Italy in 1956, while the race has since been won by both French- and German-trained horses. Japan have also fielded several runners, with Heart's Cry finishing third in 2006.
Let's hope last year's pithy three-runner race was a result of the coronavirus pandemic and not a sign of the times, as the King George should be attracting the best horses in the world.
Adayar has the potential to be one of those and it would be fantastic if he were able to emulate Galileo, the last horse to complete the Derby-King George double, and breathe some much-needed life into the race now Enable has retired.
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