The next step: Paquette takes the microphone at Parx
At this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, I saw Jessica Paquette everywhere I went. Sprinting from task to task, this handicapper, off-track Thoroughbred defender and broadcaster was a constant whirlwind at Keeneland, appearing in the paddock and on my social media feeds almost simultaneously. It’s indicative of who she is in real life: an unstoppable force, someone unafraid to take on the challenges of the Chicago Marathon a year after dragging her back to her new job as a track announcer in full time at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.
As she takes over from Chris Griffin on the mic, this self-proclaimed “strange rider” is living out another of her dreams and inspiring the next generation to pursue theirs as well.
The girl on the rail
Since his first encounter with a horse at the age of 6, Paquette has made these animals his life. She had her share of unjustified absences during her school days as she bypassed a learning day in the classroom for a day on the rails. After her first exposure to racing at New England tracks like Rockingham Park and Suffolk Downs, the aspiring rider found the 1999 Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park another of those defining experiences that made her even more determined. find their place in sport. But the road to the announcer’s booth was not straight. Rather, his first opportunity to call a run came purely by accident.
A tornado in the Boston area in 2014 delayed announcer TD Thornton’s arrival in Suffolk, so Paquette took the mic in a pinch. As the track’s senior communications manager (and later vice president of marketing), she was a common sight for racing fans, doling out her picks in the paddock while promoting the sport she loves. Calling a run, however, was another story, but Paquette was sure she was up to the task.
“I come from a place of yes. I look forward to every new challenge,” she says. “When I called this unique race at Suffolk Downs in 2014, the adrenaline rush was like nothing else.”
This impromptu turn in the Suffolk stand planted a seed for this multi-talented woman. She continued to play her role at her beloved racecourse, then added her work to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation after Suffolk closed in 2019. Since then, Paquette has worn various hats, including proud owner of OTTBs What a Trippi and Puget Sound, paddock analyst at Sam Houston in Texas and Colonial Downs in Virginia, and jack-of-all-trades in the sport of horse racing.
This knack for doing it all has landed her this dream job she’s starting this week at Parx.
The voice in the cabin
While at Sam Houston and Colonial, Paquette was able to pick up where she left off on that crazy day in Suffolk and call more races, including Quarter-Horse and Steeplechase contests. With friends like Jason Beem calling from Tampa Bay Downs and Colonial Downs, and influences like Larry Collmus and TD Thornton, it’s no wonder Paquette was able to go from paddock analyst to race caller with aplomb.
His biggest lesson from these two former Suffolk advertisers? “I’ve learned to take what you do very seriously, but also not to take yourself too seriously,” she shares as she counts down to her first days at the helm of Parx. “I love the challenge and I love being part of the daily action at a racetrack.”
Following in the footsteps of women like Ann Elliott and Angie Hermann, Paquette is about to do something she herself never considered doing until those opportunities presented themselves on the mic. She credits those before her for paving the way for this opportunity: “When I was growing up, it never occurred to me to be a runway announcer because I didn’t have it. No one gets to where it is on their own – my part in the race so far has been possible thanks to so many women who have broken barriers before me in broadcasting.
With at least 50 races already under her belt, the new Parx presenter has started perfecting her routine for every day’s work. To prepare, she colors her schedule and studies each day’s races, while reminding herself “to try and take some time to center myself and take a moment to appreciate how really cool that is.”
“The real challenge is moving fast enough to follow the action while keeping your brain quiet enough to make clear, concise choices in what you say in order to paint a picture for the people listening to you,” Paquette tells about the task. ahead. “For me, it’s a bit like doing a show jumping event – the aim is to go fast but also to make good choices.
“Ideally, you should stay ahead of the action, and you should try to see what happens as it happens, without catching up after it has already happened. Everything very, very fast.”
As she picks up where outgoing announcer Chris Griffin leaves off, will Paquette return to his role as a TikTok star and continue this social media tradition?
“I don’t know how to dance,” laughs Paquette. “Seriously though – Chris has set the bar extremely high both as an announcer and as a tireless and enthusiastic promoter of our sport. I hope to continue to do justice to the work he has done here.
Along with the joy she has brought to her many jobs over nearly two decades, Parx’s new voice is sure to make her time in the pit as joyous and as meaningful as those youthful days on the rail in Rockingham.
The heart of a pioneer
In this new role as the only woman to call full-time races at a major American racetrack, Paquette brings a resilience that is indicative of someone who has dedicated her life to horses and the sport and who has overcome her share of challenges in road course. . After Suffolk closed in 2019, she persisted and found new places to follow her passion and ply her craft. After fracturing her L4 vertebra in a fall a year ago, this trailblazer found her way back to long-distance running, finishing the Chicago Marathon last month.
At every turn, she showed herself as the trailblazers who made possible the careers of other women in racing, possessing the tenacity to persevere.
“[This new job] is a huge honor that I do not take lightly,” says Paquette. “At the end of the day, I’m just a weird horse girl who’s extremely lucky to have made such an incredible life and career from these incredible animals. My role in the sport is to promote it, to help to make it accessible to new fans and ultimately to hopefully leave it slightly better than it was when I started if I can.