Jessica Paquette has weathered plenty in her almost year on the job at Parx Racing. She’s handled the ups and downs, learning the craft as the track announcer at the suburban Philadelphia racetrack that Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million betPARX Pennsylvania Derby and strong supporting card.
Now she’s ready for another type of weather when the blast of a tropical storm hits the area Friday night and Saturday.
“The first race I called was at Suffolk Downs after a tornado and T.D. (Thornton, the track’s regular announcer) was stuck in traffic,” said the 38-year-old Paquette, who cut her teeth in racing at the East Boston oval before gigs at Sam Houston Race Park, Colonial Downs and now Parx. “It’s pretty fitting that I called my first race in a tornado and this one could be in a tropical storm. It’s kind of poetic, but maybe it’s me.”
Paquette, who jokes that she’s been called the “Lady Announcer,” will make history Saturday as the first female to call a Grade 1 stakes in North America. She’ll call the $1 million Cotillion at 5:20 p.m. ET and the 43rd running of the Pennsylvania Derby at 6:10 p.m.
“First and hopefully not the last,” Paquette said. “It’s a huge honor to even get the tiniest footnote in the history books of the sport that we’ve all come to devote our entire lives to. The thing with working in racing, it isn’t just what we do it’s who we are. Our entire sense of self gets woven into it.”
Paquette worked as the paddock host and analyst for the last two Pennsylvania Derby Days and took the full-time announcing job Nov. 15, 2022. She admits it’s been a rocky road learning the craft, while receiving plenty of positive feedback from her peers and others involved in the Thoroughbred industry.
A lifelong racing fan and equestrian from New England, Paquette feels up to the challenge of the job on a day-to-day basis and on Pennsylvania racing’s biggest day.
“The good thing is I’m a fundamentally anxious person, so I’m always probably like a 7 1/2 on a scale of 1 to 10. This has really benefitted me horse showing as well. I don’t really get more anxious. I’m just always sort of anxious. But I want to do a good job on a bottom non-winners-of-two-lifetime as much as I do on a big day. The preparation remains the same and I’m a big believer in control what you can control. And in this case, I can control how prepared I am, my attitude and how I react to things.”
This Is Horse Racing’s Tom Law is part of the publicity team at Parx Racing covering the Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion Stakes.