Photo Credit: Kim Pratt

After nine months on the job as track announcer at Parx Racing, Jessica Paquette is set to become the first female announcer to call a Grade 1 race in the United States. On Saturday, September 23, 2023, Parx Racing hosts Pennsylvania’s most prestigious races, the Grade 1 betPARX Pennsylvania Derby and the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes, both with purses of $1 million each.

“I’m honored to be the first woman to call a Grade 1 race, and it’s a great privilege for me to have this opportunity in my career,” said Jessica. “I’m excited and nervous about it, but I feel like nerves help me, not hurt me. It’s all about what you do with nerves. In a way, calling every race is the same. I do my best with every race because every race matters and every horse is important to somebody.”

The card on betPARX Pennsylvania Derby Day includes ten stakes races and over $3 million in purses. Beside the PA Derby and Cotillion, there are three other graded stakes on the undercard, the Gallant Bob Stakes, Grade 2, the Turf Monster, Grade 3, and the Greenwood Cup, Grade 3. The Pennsylvania Derby attracts top 3 year olds from across the country and recent winners include Taiba in 2022 and Hot Rod Charlie in 2021. The Cotillion, first run in 1969, showcases top 3 year old fillies and recent winners include Society in 2022 and Clairiere in 2021.

Photo Credit: Kim Pratt

An announcer’s job is to call a race as it unfolds, in real time. It’s not an easy job. They narrate the race for fans as the horses leave the paddock and make their way to the starting gate until the finish of the race. “I do a full paddock analysis before the race as well,” explained Jessica. “The most challenging aspect of the job at first was memorizing the details of each race. In 2021, I suffered a brain injury, so memorization was difficult. It got better the more I used my brain, and now, it’s easy for me to go from one race to the next.”

Paquette’s day starts early as she works on getting interviews and taping features in the stable area. Each race day, she arrives in the announcer’s booth atop the grandstand at Parx, on the finish line. With the tools of the trade, binoculars, racing program, colored pencils, and her voice, Jessica begins by welcoming fans to Parx and announcing the scratches and changes for the day’s racing along with the track conditions. Before each race, she memorizes the horses’ names and their colors, and the jockeys and the trainers. “I ad lib once the horses are in the saddling paddock. I think that being a horse owner myself gives me an advantage with my commentary. I like to add details about the horse’s behavior and body language like pinning their ears or being washed out, and I describe the equipment a horse is wearing like blinkers or shadow rolls. I set up the race and give my picks, and I continue watching the horses with my binoculars as they make their way to the gate.

Photo Credit: Kim Pratt

Then, I assess the break and call the race as I watch the race on TV. Once the race is over, the process starts over for the next race,” explained Paquette. “That’s my day. I basically don’t stop talking all day long. At home, my loved ones notice that I’m much quieter now,” said Paquette.

As a female in a male dominated profession, Jessica faced scrutiny and criticism. “I was surprised by the amount of negative personal comments I got on social media. It was rough, and it was particularly surprising to me to see criticism generated in the industry. It’s not as rough now, and it will always be there, but I just put blinkers on and do my best. At home, I ride my horse and jog to relieve my stress.

On PA Derby Day, it will be an honor to call the races and help pave the way for other women and young girls hoping for a career in announcing in the horse racing industry,” said Paquette.
Post time for betPARX Pennsylvania Derby Day is 12:05 P.M. on Saturday, September 23. The gates open at 10:00 A.M. Free baseball cap giveaway while supplies last, and live music, family fun in the picnic area,and food and drink specials.

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