Jessica Otten to be the host Saturday on In The Sulky

Jessica Otten to be the host Saturday on In The Sulky

March 5, 2021

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In honor of International Woman’s Day, the Big M broadcaster will have her first turn in the In The Sulky broadcaster’s chair and will interview trainer Julie Miller.

by Debbie Little

For the first time there will be two women on The Meadowlands’ “In The Sulky” live pre-game show segment.

In early recognition of International Women’s Day, The Big M’s Jessica Otten will be the host of the Saturday night (March 6) spot and interview trainer Julie Miller.

When Miller was approached by Otten to do the interview, she thought it would just be a 30-second interview in the paddock between races, until Otten told her to show up early before the card.

Miller is honored to be chosen to be interviewed in recognition of International Women’s Day and the fact that Otten is doing the interview just makes it more special.

“It just shows the progression of the sport,” said Miller. “It’s nice to see her come out here from the Midwest and how she’s blossomed and she’s doing a super job up there. It just shows you when you’re driven and focused what you can do.”

The pre-game show gets underway at 5:27 p.m. and “In The Sulky” is part of the first block.

This will be Otten’s first time playing host on “In The Sulky” and only her second time playing host to the pre-game show since coming on board at The Meadowlands in 2018.

“I’m a little nervous, but I feel like I’m ready for it and I’m really excited,” said Otten. “I will host the pre-game show with Brett Risi and then once the pre-game show is over, [Dave] Brower will jump in the host seat.”

Otten will then take her usual spot in the paddock for the race card, where she will continue to interview women trainers competing that night.

“I know Nancy [Takter] has one in,” said Otten. “We can talk about the horse she does have racing and what she’s looking forward to this year since she’s the 2020 USHWA Trainer of the Year.

“Sofia Zingale has a horse in and she actually does a lot of riding hunter-jumper horses, plus the standardbreds. Not a lot of people may know who she is because she’s a little bit newer and younger so I’m excited to get her face out there and talk about her and what she does.”

Otten, who splits her time at The Meadowlands as both a marketing coordinator and TV talent, also contacted a few women handicappers across North America that will be giving out best bets and price plays in graphic form on Saturday night. In addition, she will be posting content to social media.

“I run all the [Meadowlands] social media platforms – Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – so what I’ll do is take short video clips and photos of the women that are back there and post them throughout the night. And on International Women’s Day, which is Monday, March 8, I’ll post stuff throughout the day.”

At this time last year, Otten celebrated some of the track’s female drivers and trainers by asking five of them the same nine questions and then posting their answers with photos in magazine-style layouts on social media, but this year Otten and Director of TV Oz Colon wanted to up the stakes.

Colon remembers talking with Otten about what she did last year for International Women’s Day and that the two of them put their heads together and came up with this year’s format. Colon also mentioned that he is happy with the work Otten does for TV.

“I think she’s doing great,” said Colon. “I think she’s progressed well. She’s really passionate about the game and she wants things to work out for the industry as a whole for the future.”

Otten grew up in Lennon, MI, about 10 miles from Sports Creek Raceway, where her dad, Peter, always had 20 to 30 head at their family-owned farm.

As racing declined in his home state, Peter had to move horses over the border to Canada to compete on a regular basis.

Seeing her family have to live apart to do what they loved was upsetting to a teenage Otten, who decided to do something about it.

“[I said] I’m going to write the governor a letter,” she said. “Why can’t we get the help we need? Why can’t my family do what we love and my dad run his business and all of us be in the same place?”

Otten never mailed the letter since she wasn’t sure if the governor would ever read it, but at that same time an Extended Gaming Bill that would help generate extra revenue for purses for the State of Michigan was being brought before the State House and Senate.

So, a 14-year-old Otten went to plead her case.

“I told them my story and I read my letter,” she said. “I testified in front of the senators and then a week later I testified in front of the house of representatives and the bill passed both of them. And then the governor vetoed it, so that was pretty upsetting. But it was a really cool experience.”

About five years later, Otten was hired to work on the Post Time with Mike & Mike podcast.

“She came to work for us at the Breeders Crown, I believe it was 2016,” said Michael Carter, one half of Mike & Mike. “She was super nervous when she was first going to do [an interview] and she didn’t know what to ask per se and I just told her be yourself, don’t try to be something you’re not.

“It’s amazing to see her progress over the last four or five years. One thing I love about Jessica is she can just kind of roll with the punches. She doesn’t let things get her down and she’s never going to give up on something.”

Otten is grateful to her Meadowlands family – especially Jeff Gural and Jason Settlemoir – for giving her this opportunity.

“When you work with people like Brower and Dave Little and Ken [Warkentin], they make you better and they’re always there for advice, always there for critiquing,” said Otten. “And I love critiquing because I’m not perfect and I’ve only been doing this for two years. I’m learning every day.

“Michael Carter has taught me so much about the structure of an interview even if our interviews are only two-and-a-half minutes long, if that. He’s taught me so much. Don’t ask point-blank questions where they can say yes or no or a one-word answer. Make it conversational, have them have a conversation with you. That way, you can actually talk back and forth. You don’t want to be in the spotlight, you want them to be in the spotlight.”

Even with all she has learned and progress she has made, Otten knows that there are plenty of haters on social media who don’t know her background and knowledge and simply judge her by her appearance.

“‘She only has this job because she’s a pretty girl’ and I don’t want people to look at me like that,” she said. “I’ve always been huge into following this sport. I was born and raised in it. It’s in my blood. I love, love, love the horses.”

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