It was 3:30 a.m. on Christmas Day 2020 and Jessica Paquette wasn’t home sleeping or wrapping presents.
She was actually working, in an office building in Wakefield, Mass., for Trakus – the computer system that provides the exact location of each horse in a race at all times – monitoring races from Turkey.
At 3:30 a.m.
On Christmas Day.
“I felt so sorry for myself and all I could think was, ‘Where have I gone in life?’ ” Paquette said.
Less than two years after that horrific holiday, Paquette has an answer to her rhetorical question and it sounds pretty good: track announcer at Parx Racing.
Paquette has been named as the replacement for Chris Griffin, who will be calling races at Aqueduct starting this winter and Monmouth Park next spring. She expects to start in December.
“It’s amazing how things can change in a few years,” said Paquette, who will be the only female full-time track announcer in the U.S. “This is a huge deal and not something I take lightly. No one is going to work harder than me.”
Paquette, who worked in public relations and marketing for Suffolk Downs for 16 years, has served as paddock analyst at Parx on Pennsylvania Derby Day the last two years. She had let it be known in racing circles that she would be interested in an announcing position, so when Griffin got the new jobs, Parx became a serious possibility.
“Chris is one of my best friends, so I was aware of what was going on with his process,” Paquette said. “When he announced his move, I thought ‘Why not me?’ and I put my hat in the ring. The team at Parx knows what I bring to the table. I think both parties knew it was going to be the right fit on a lot of levels.”
Now that it has been finalized, Parx is glad to have her.
“We are thrilled to welcome Jessica to the Parx family,” said Joe Wilson, chief operating officer for Parx Racing. “The high regard with which she is held in our industry along with a tremendous work ethic makes her the perfect person to usher in this exciting new era not only for Parx but for the sport as a whole.”
Faced with serious uncertainty in her career after her beloved Suffolk Downs closed in 2019, Paquette has landed on her feet – and then some. It started with doing paddock analysis at Sam Houston Race Park remotely in 2020 during the height of the pandemic and continued with the same gig at Colonial Downs the last two summers. She also called Quarter Horse and the occasional Thoroughbred race at Sam Houston and a steeplechase race at Colonial Downs.
“That’s when I realized I had work to do on pace and timing,” she said.
Paquette is fortunate to have several quality announcers as good friends, dating back to her Suffolk days when she worked alongside Larry Collmus and T.D. Thornton. In addition to Griffin, she is very close with Jason Beem, and she said Frank Mirahmadi and Nick Tammaro have been very supportive as well.
Paquette made her unplanned announcing debut in 2014, when a tornado hit the Boston area and the resulting traffic forced Thornton to arrive after the first race.
“I was the only one there who could do it,” she said. “There was no time to prepare, so you just do your best.”
Once she got more of a taste of the announcing game at Sam Houston, that became a career goal.
“I wanted to have a meet of my own by the time I was 40,” said Paquette, who accomplished it three years early. “I felt like if I could get more reps, I would be OK.”
Regardless of the job, Paquette knew at an early age she wanted to work in racing. Growing up in Lowell, Mass., about 20 miles from Rockingham Park, she would get to the track any way she could.
“I had a lot of unexcused absences in high school,” said Paquette, who owns two retired Thoroughbreds, What a Trippi and Puget Sound.
As a 14-year-old, she went to the 1999 Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park as part of the Kids to the Cup program, and that was all she needed.
“It was my first time going to a track other than Rockingham or Suffolk,” she said. “It was everything I wanted it to be and more.”
Paquette would eventually intern at Rockingham under Lynne Snierson and she landed a job at Suffolk in 2006, taking on any and all tasks.
“I just showed up and said yes,” she said.
She had a great run at Suffolk and could have conceivably been happy there forever, but Massachusetts politics got in the way. Suffolk did not get the casino license it pursued vigorously and that was the beginning of the end for the venerable oval.
“That was an existential crisis,” she said. “When you work in racing, it’s not a job, it’s a part of who you are and Suffolk was a huge part of who I was.”
As it turns out, it is horse racing itself that defines Paquette, who has recently served as director of communications for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Her newest role includes being a pioneer as only the second woman ever in the U.S. to have a full-time announcing job (Angela Hermann was the first, at Golden Gate Field in 2016).
“When you grow up as a diehard fan of the sport, the idea that you will get to make a little history is beyond your wildest dreams,” said Paquette, who is already looking forward to calling the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion next year. “I hope one little girl hears my voice and says, ‘I want to do that.’”
Don’t bet against it.