Danny Jackson is about to become one of the pioneers of the sport.
His name may not ring a bell at the moment, but his voice will surely do to anyone who watched ITV’s coverage of Lockinge in Newbury last month. Jackson held the Jokes Injured Fund charity race to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee competition at Berkshire Circuit as part of a new initiative to support female advocacy.
While football, cricket, rugby and other traditional sports have become accustomed to having female voices in the comment box, horse racing is still an anomaly. More opportunities were provided for riders, broadcasters, and broadcasters, but those possibilities had not yet translated into the caller’s cabin.
Jackson is ready to change it. Jackson, a Greyhound commentator with William Hill for a decade, aims to become the first full-time female athlete in the UK. I spoke Star Sport newspaper He accepted his second assignment at the commentary booth on Thursday and admitted that this time it was more a case of excitement than a nervous one.
“I’m really excited,” Jackson revealed before raising the microphone. “This time I’m more excited than nervous. Last time I wanted to vomit so much! I’ve done a lot of workouts since then and feel safer and less tense.”
Jackson showed no jitters on his Newbury debut, and it was the same Thursday when he called home the runners and nine runners in masterful fashion.
But it’s not hard to see why nerves can play such a role when someone is so excited about it. “It was hard to keep my nerves,” Jackson admits for the first time in Newbury.
“It’s a new challenge and something that means a lot to me because it’s something I want to do. Besides being the first woman to do it in ten years, it’s a big thing for me and I want to do it. I get very nervous about things like this, but I think I’ve managed to Keep it under control when you are already calling.
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Richard Howells was like, ‘You want to get out of this! It’ll be fine, just open your mouth because you can do it. He gave me good advice first and then advised me later. It was good to put it there because I knew that if something went wrong, I would have it like a safety blanket.”
Commentators and broadcasters are no strangers to receiving sexual abuse online. Alex Scott and Karen Carney, to name a few, have been on the receiving end lately. Thankfully, however, Jackson has received a very positive reaction from the people who first listened last month.
“I actually had a very good reaction,” he tells us. “I don’t think I was surprised because when I went to America I had such a good reaction there – and I was really nervous about it. I know that when it comes to commenting, they like to have people from America or South Africa or France or whatever you comment on.”
“But it went over there, so I was hoping it would be the same here. Everything was fine, which is good. There were some complaints but nothing major. More like ‘I can’t believe they left a woman comments’ but I totally ignore it” .
Then our conversation turns to the question of whether horse racing should do more to facilitate a path for commentators. Given the opportunities for women in other areas of sports, this seems a reasonable question.
But Jackson doesn’t think there are any internal barriers holding the aspiring commentator back, and adds that many of her male colleagues want to see a female voice in the end.
“I honestly think it’s because no one really wants to be a woman,” Jackson says. “I and many of my male colleagues know him first.
I talked to them and said “Can you help me”. And they say ‘Yes! We want a woman in rosary, it would be nice to mix things up.’ I don’t think it’s because of a lack of support or opportunities.
“It’s so stressful and you can see the abuse people get online if I make the smallest mistake, and as a prima donna, I know I’m going to be scrutinized a lot. I have thick skin, I’ll be fine. But is this thing, do I really want to put myself under this? The kind of pressure? I think that’s what a lot of people are thinking, especially with social media.”
So, with no female votes to look at in the comments box, or at least not in the race, how did Jackson dream of wanting to call the sport of Kings? Greyhound racing and John Hunt played a big role in his ambition.
“My boss at the time told me to focus on greyhound racing because he said I needed a sport to focus on and it’s easier than horse racing,” he says. “So I started learning all about the sport of greyhounds. Although only six riders run in circles, I was ridiculously nervous.
“I’ve been in about 200,000 races now, but my first one was ridiculously nerve-wracking. Then I realized you can play the way you say things and make the competition exciting or boring. I remember listening to John Hunt – he comments on swimming as well as racing horses;
“During the 2012 Olympics he was commenting on the swimming competition. I was an amateur swimmer and I know how bored she was to watch it, let alone listen to it on the radio. He was commenting on 5 Live and I just thought ‘Wow.’ And that’s the power of the commentator. He made it sound exciting though I know it’s boring, and it has been for me. I honed my skills as a greyhound commentator and thought I needed a new challenge, so it was horse racing as well.”
Jackson had only commented on one race in Newbury when we spoke, but now he’s down twice after calling the racers home at Thursday’s Greatwood Charity Race. She has two more races in August and November, but her long-term goal is to become the UK’s first full-time female racer on the track.
“My goal now is to be the UK’s first full-time female racer, yes,” she says, struggling to hold back her smile at the thought of such an outcome.
Jackson nearly made that dream come true earlier this year, reaching the bottom six in RaceTech’s latest recruiting campaign for new commentators. You missed this time, but you feel like it won’t happen again the next time you present yourself with this opportunity.
“This time I threw my hat in the ring because they’ve been through the first application process for a number of years. I’m in the last six so I know I’m fine and they liked what they heard. It won’t stop me just because I didn’t get the job this time, I’m going to practice, post my name and organize my time so I can of going down different paths and getting an idea so that I can build the knowledge and experience base I already have. Next time, it will be mine.”
The former employee of William Hill doesn’t allow himself to suffer from this setback, far from it. “It’s a waiting game,” she adds enthusiastically. “Many commentators, or potential commentators, move through the ranks from one point to another.
“I spoke to some of my guides and they said it would be great if you could have a point-to-point meeting and then progress from there. You have a lot of experience and no screen because it’s a safety net. You and a pair of binoculars are in the middle of a field and hell or high water comes, You have to call them home. That’s what I aspire to this winter.”
What does it mean for Jackson to become the first person to call for a full-time women’s competition in the UK? The smile on her face says it all. “It would mean absolutely everything,” he says. “It’s something I first thought about seven or eight years ago when I really enjoyed commenting on greyhounds. It would mean the world.”
Jackson ended our conversation with an anecdote about his first visit to Newbury last month. “I never said ‘Oh, I’m a woman, so I have to do this.'” I’ve always been ‘I’m just a hungover’ and that’s all I want to be.
“It’s funny because we had a videographer in Newbury on Lockinge Day and he said ‘I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way. And I said ‘Just tell me.’ And he said, ‘You sounded so normal, as if I’ve been listening to you for centuries.’
And I said ‘honestly, that’s the best thing you can tell me.’ I just want to be a commentator. I want to do the job because I’m good enough to do it.”
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