This one’s for the girls

International Women’s Day will be celebrated at The Meadowlands on March 4.

by Debbie Little

In honor of International Women’s Day, The Meadowlands will host an event sponsored by Clinton Tractor that will have Jessica Otten, 26, and Ashley Mailloux, 29, co-host both the pregame and live broadcasts tomorrow night (March 4), starting at 5:45 p.m.

Otten, marketing coordinator and TV host for The Meadowlands and Fox Sports, is excited for the opportunity to work with Mailloux again and, for the first time, on the set.

“After not doing so much last year, I figured we should step it up this year,” Otten said. “I reached out to Ashley and I’m happy she was available.”

Mailloux, a freelance analyst for various entities both standardbred and thoroughbred, is excited to work with The Big M team again after a two-year hiatus.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been there,” Mailloux said. “I’m excited that I have the opportunity to go back. Jess and I have worked together but we’ve never been able to co-host a show and I think that’s huge for International Women’s Day.

“I think when you look at the sport as a whole, there are a lot of women involved and not necessarily always in the spotlight. So, I think The Meadowlands having an International Women’s Day is a huge accomplishment and it kind of highlights that. So, I know Jess and I are both looking forward to kind of shining a light on all the women in racing.”

Otten pulled out all the stops for this event, which will include an “In the Sulky” with driver Lauren Tritton, taped interviews as well as live ones from the paddock and two races featuring female drivers.

When Otten first thought of holding a women’s race she was worried that she might have trouble getting participants, which was clearly not the case.

“I didn’t realize [on Feb. 1] when I posted for any female driver to contact Scott Warren that it would get so much hype so quickly,” Otten said. “Which was great.”

Meadowlands’ racing secretary Warren thought the response was “far more and quicker” than for similar events that he’s worked on in the past, pointing out that he received emails as soon as the post went up and even had to turn some people down.

“You’ve got to at least hold a “P” license [to compete in these races],” Warren said. “I actually had a couple of inquiries from people that had a “Q/F” license.”

The event will appropriately represent International Women’s Day, since one quarter of the participants are from outside of the U.S., with three from Canada and two from Denmark.

“It’s not every day, obviously, that you see a female driver,” Mailloux said. “I was excited to see how successful it would be and how many women would want to participate in this event and to hear that there’s going to be two full fields I think is huge and really exciting. It’s going to be awesome to witness live and we’ll see what happens.”

Some of the U.S. drivers — representing Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Virginia — have experience racing at The Big M, while others will be making their debut at the mecca of harness racing.

Owner/trainer/driver Mariah Wright, 30, will be making her first appearance at The Meadowlands both on and off the track despite the fact that Otten’s been trying to get her to The Big M for five years.

“My best friend has lived there for five years and I’ve yet to make it out to see her,” Wright said with a laugh. “We grew up together. Our parents knew each other before we were born. I guess I can say I’ve known Jess her whole life and she’s a couple of years younger than me. We grew up together around the Michigan fairs and we have pictures of us as early as 3 or 5 years old at the fairs together.”

Wright is an only child so Otten is the closest thing she has to a sister.

“I’m really proud of her,” Wright said. “Where she is in life and just everything. She’s done more than I could ever imagine for her.

“I’m excited for her, because this is kind of her thing that she’s put together and I’m excited to be a part of it. She called me and told me about it and I said, ‘Oh, that’s so cool’ and she said, ‘And you’re coming? And I’m not taking no for an answer.’”

Wright has nothing but respect for the other women in the event: Melissa Arbia, Whitney Bell, Kayla Chappell, Stacy Chiodo, Charlene Cushing, Danielle Dailey, Maria De Bruijn, Nicole DiCostanzo, Pam Forgie, Sabina Gammelgard, Stacey McLenaghan, Veronica Merton, Marianna Monaco, Mariann Nielsen, McKenzie Sowers, Annie Stoebe, Lauren Tritton, Leah Vandervort and Julie Walker.

“It’s a talented group of women drivers and it’ll be exciting to see everyone on the track at the same time,” Wright said. “Hopefully, we get to do this again next year, but I don’t know when the next time will be that I’ll get to line up at The Meadowlands. You don’t want to think that it’s a once in a lifetime, but at the same time it could be a lifetime opportunity and you want to race hard for every opportunity you have when you’re there since it’s only one race.”

Otten wanted to thank all the women behind the scenes that have helped this event come together, especially the talented Mary McDermott for doing the flowers.

There will be special “Women’s Day” coolers — provided by Corporate Images, Inc., a women-owned business — for the winner of both races that will be presented by Meadowlands’ assistant general manager, Marianne Rotella, and director of marketing and event operations, Rachel Ryan as well as Otten and Mailloux.

It’s also in the works to have a mic on a couple of the drivers and Shades Demsky has offered to edit the footage which should drop on Wednesday, March 8, which is officially International Women’s Day.

Provided the forecast of a winter storm tonight (March 3) doesn’t rain on their parade and prevent competitors from arriving, everything is set for a big night.

“Women can basically do anything,” Mailloux said. “We’re powerful. We can do anything that we want if we work towards it. I think it’s more of a day to celebrate how far women have come, all of our accomplishments, but also that there’s still change needed and we’re heading in the right direction.

“To see women shining in all areas of the sport, that’s certainly something that women should be proud of.”