As Suffolk Downs awakens from a hiatus, offering select racing days with higher purses, longtime racing analyst and OTTB owner Jessica Paquette has found a new gear as she works at the track by day, and shows her New England racing champion What a Trippi in the hunter/jumpers during her off hours.
In the two years since Suffolk Downs closed its doors after losing a casino-license bid, the ever-resilient racing analyst and announcer shook off her disappointment, got to work as Starlight Racing’s communication director, and doubled down on her efforts to make a hunter/jumper out of her quirky, grumpy off-track Thoroughbred What a Trippi.
And oh what a trip it’s been!
What a Trippi
Dam: Avert Your Eyes, by North Pole
Foal date: March 18, 2004
Earnings: $111,228 in 42 startsJust as Suffolk Downs emerged from the doldrums of a hard-fought effort to win a Massachusetts casino license, an effort organizers hoped would breath new life into the weathered racetrack, Paquette and Trippi have also emerged from the East Boston oval to find satisfaction and success.
Though there’ve been some rough spots in Trippi’s re-training, with unexpected injuries and a few temperamental outbursts, Trippi has gone on to have his most successful show season yet, she says.
“We were at Fieldstone and he was the only other Thoroughbred in his class. Next to the Warmbloods, he looked like a different species. But, we’re showing against professional riders on exquisite, purpose-bred show horses,” she says. “I didn’t expect it to be easy to compete, and I don’t evaluate our success by the ribbons, but on whether he did better today than he did the other day. For us, the mark of a successful day is that he behaved well, did the job I asked him to do, and that we both had fun.”
Focusing on enjoying the moments together, and not accumulating ribbons, has made Paquette philosophical about their show efforts. Her best moment in the ring occurred in June, when she showed him for the first time at the Cape Cod Hunter. Thrilled to be there riding the ex-racehorse she met and fell in love with while on the job at Suffolk Downs, Paquette says she was nearly moved to tears by the experience.
“When we walked into the lineup I kept repeating in my head that I wasn’t going to cry, and to just be cool,” she says. “I needed to play it cool because I knew my coach and my friends would make fun of me if I came out of the ring clutching my ribbon and crying. And the first time I rode him at Fieldstone, I don’t think I even picked up my reins! I trotted around with a smile on my face; I was just so happy to be there.”
Competing in the Baby Greens, Paquette plans to build Trippi’s confidence at the lower jumps, and plans to compete him later this month at HITS Saugerties.
And when Paquette returned to Suffolk Downs for the first of three weekend racing meets this summer, she made a beeline for Trippi’s former trainers, Michael Lecesse and George Saccardo. Feeling like she’d “come back home” after a time away, she threw her arms around Lecesse, hugged him, and thanked him once more for retiring Trippi sound.
“It makes me so happy to show them how well their old horse is doing,” she says. “George has very fond memories of Trippi in racing, and he liked him. And Mike also liked him, and was happy to hear how well he’s doing.”
Her success in the show ring with the seasoned racing campaigner is something she hopes will set an example. “I hope we can be advocates for OTTBs, and help show how good they can be, even the hard ones like Trippi,” Paquette says. “Even on the days when it’s not fun, or when things get a little rocky, it’s important to keep doing what you’re doing. Eventually you get to where you want to be.”
Paquette will hang up her tack and pick up a microphone to announce at two more meets on Aug. 6-7 and Sept. 3-4. And the Boston track will play host to trainers such as Bill Mott and Steve Asmussen, and others, as New England racing families come together to enjoy old times with Paquette at her favorite racetrack. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is work in racing,” she says. “I started working at Rockingham Park as a kid as a groom. And then I got an internship at Suffolk Downs, and I became the intern who never left. For a lot of us, coming back to the track feels like a family reunion. It’s been really nice to see some familiar faces, and to show Trippi’s trainers how far he’s come.”