Blood, sweat and peers helped John Rallis achieve his dream

The Canadian will be broadcasting from The Meadowlands the next two weekends.

by Debbie Little

John Rallis, 28, will be back at The Meadowlands the next two weekends as a freelance TV personality, either on set or in the paddock, as he continues to live out his dream.

As a young boy growing up in Toronto, Rallis spent many hours with his family at Mohawk, but at that time he had no idea what a big part harness racing would play in his future. He just knew that he loved it.

Rallis’ mom, Agathi, is connected to harness racing as a cousin of both the Christoforou and Demetrious families.

“So, that was our weekend tradition, spending time at the racetrack,” John said.

During his teenage years, John took a brief hiatus from the sport, but when he hit 20, he was back on track.

“It was a random family night [at Mohawk] to see one of our relatives and, boom, the passion was just kind of there again and I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” John said. “I forgot how much I loved it because I was away… It’d been five years and yeah, I fell in love with the sport instantly again. And then I said to my dad [Sam], ‘Hey, let’s start going to the races a bit more because I kind of get a kick out of it.’”

With that fire rekindled, John wanted to learn everything he could about the sport. He did a deep dive into programs, watched replays and spent a lot of time talking to people — things that he does to this day — and became a true student of the game.

John graduated with a degree in journalism in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, which didn’t leave him with many options.

“I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get there,” he said. “I was helping my parents at their restaurant [George’s Deli and B B Q in Toronto] and I said, ‘You know what, I guess this is what I’m going to do, despite not being what I truly want.’ I was just starting to accept that this is what was my fate and this is what I was going to do for a career, and then it all changed when I went to the racetrack and had that conversation with Jimmy [Demetrious].”

His cousin Jimmy had noticed how much time and effort he had put into learning about the sport and had a suggestion for him.

“[Jimmy] said, ‘Listen, you should go talk to this guy Dan Fisher, he’s the managing editor of Trot magazine, and just see if he’s got work for you,’” John said. “He didn’t know if he did, he just said, ‘I just think you have all this knowledge, you have all this passion, why don’t you put it to good use?’

“So, I reached out to [Fisher] on Facebook, because I didn’t have an email or anything, and we spoke for an hour and a half and we absolutely hit it off.”

Fisher had been looking for an associate editor for several months, prior to being contacted by John.

“It’s very difficult to find someone with an education in journalism, or something related, as well as some knowledge of the sport,” Fisher said. “John’s knowledge was mainly from the betting side, but at least he knew the terminology and some people in the industry. He was a little green when it came to his editing skills, etc., but he seemed passionate.”

Getting a little help from friends and family became a theme in John’s career. He had no TV experience, yet former Woodbine broadcaster Chad Rozema got him an interview at Mohawk and John debuted on air in 2023. Later that same year, Gabe Prewitt recommended John to The Meadowlands.

“I think John is as sharp as they come on the wagering side of the game, and on top of that is a great guy that has the same passion we do for our sport,” Prewitt said. “That’s a guy I want to buy stock in. I enjoy trying to give guys like that a leg up, because that’s the only way I ever had a career. If it were not for Sam McKee’s stubborn insistence, I would have never gotten hired at Pompano… That position led me to other opportunities, thankfully. John would be among my first calls if I was starting a brand-new track tomorrow.”

John debuted at The Meadowlands on Nov. 25, the night of the Fall Final Four and FanDuel Championships. He has commuted to East Rutherford, NJ, from Toronto on six weekends since then and tonight (May 10) will mark his eighth appearance. He will be doing commentary for FanDuel TV and interviews in the paddock.

Although John will not be sitting on set with The Meadowlands’ long-time TV personality Dave Little this weekend, he probably will seek him out prior to the start of the races.

“[Dave’s] probably glad that he’s got three weeks away from me,” said John with a laugh.

John worked with Little for four straight weeks from late-March through mid-April.

“You can ask Dave, I just always want to talk his head off,” John said. “He’s probably had enough of me.

I’m not a broadcaster yet. I don’t have the skill set yet and I’m still learning mannerisms and the flow of it and having Dave alongside there, I told him, ‘It’s pivotal. Critique me all you need because that’s how I’m going to get better.’”

As a handicapper himself, John said he thinks he knows what other handicappers want to hear in his pre-race interviews.

“Nobody wants to know if the horse is going to be a quote unquote, good horse,” John said. “People want to know, is he good to go tonight? Do you like him tonight? I’m talking specifically to the handicapper.

“As I started working in the industry, I’ve started learning that phrasing is imperative. So, definitely you get the answer that you want to hear most of the time if you phrase it accordingly.”

According to John, following next weekend, he hopes to be back at The Big M a few more times before the end of the current Championship Meet, and, possibly, including his first Hambletonian Day.

“Well, I’m a big proponent of doing what you love,” John said. “So, it’s one of those things where I kind of knew what I wanted to do from a young age. I always knew I wanted to get involved in sports, whether it be journalism or whether it be broadcasting, I just didn’t know how I was going to get there but I wanted to get there.

“The biggest thing for me is that’s what I knew I wanted to do. So, becoming a fan for me was great, but if I could make this into a career, that would just be a dream. And so far, that’s what it’s been.”