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07 December 2022

The country’s first female race commentator, Dani Jackson talks to Racing Together about the progress of her career, her desire to help other women and her pride in being part of Newbury’s nomination for the Diversity & Inclusion Award at the RCA Showcase Awards

I’ve received nothing but positivity about the coverage of Newbury’s initiative to introduce a female commentator: from colleagues, friends and family, and people I have never met reaching out on social media to tell me how young girls close to them have thought it was ‘really cool that a girl is commentating!’ To be nominated as part of the Newbury team for the Diversity & Inclusion Award at the recent RCA Awards night was amazing. It really was the icing on the cake on what has been the best year of my career so far.

Studies came second best to a world that fascinated me

I didn’t have the usual entry into racing that so many of my colleagues have – I used to have a bet in the Grand National every year from quite a young age, and honestly thought that was the only day we raced! Fast forward to 2010 and I needed a part-time job while I was studying Chemical Engineering at University, so I applied to be a bookmaker with William Hill and started life taking bets on all sports. It was a new world that fascinated me from the off. I ended up dropping out of my course at university (I hated it and couldn’t see myself wearing a hard hat and running a chemical plant in the future). I stayed on with William Hill and in 2012 I was offered a secondment to the Broadcast side of the business. I can certainly talk, but I’d never aspired to be behind a microphone, never mind in front of a camera. Nevertheless, that is precisely what occurred that year and I’ve never looked back.

Nothing to beat seeing live action

Greyhound racing was my first love after my Broadcast boss told me to concentrate on an “easier” sport. It was the gateway to horseracing and has become a massive part of my life; I even check the results when I’m on holiday! I was lucky enough to go to the Cheltenham Festival in 2012 and Big Buck’s stole my heart. He was so brave and gutsy and had the aura of a superstar – I think that was when I knew I was properly hooked! You must go to a race meeting at least once in your life to really appreciate the majesty of these animals – horses and greyhounds, alike.

My interest in the commentary side of things was accelerated when I heard the BBC’s John Hunt commentate on the swimming during the Olympics. He made a sport that can be very boring to watch – I know, I used to be a swimmer – into something thrilling to listen to on the radio. At that point, I realised the skill of a commentator can bring an event to life. I’ve called approximately 300,000 greyhound races to date, and I will always love commentating on dogs. However, I needed a new challenge and horseracing commentary is always different with jumps, Flat, sprints, long distance, figure of eight tracks, and everything in between. But I had to practise…a lot! I reached out to my friends, and commentators, Darren Owen, Malcolm Tomlinson and Gareth Topham who have helped me hone my skill over the last few years. I record my calls on-course and they critique them after each race. There is nothing better than live experience.

Making history at Newbury

Honestly, that whole day is a bit of a blur – I only know it really happened after I watched the clip they played on ITV! I remember thinking what a rush it was, and how I wanted the feeling to last. The reception I received on social media, and at Newbury, was fantastic and the other couple of days I called the charity races, I got the same buzz after and was able to enjoy it a little more as the nerves lessened…ever so slightly!

As for what’s next – I’m now a freelance broadcaster, TV presenter and commentator working on a variety of different projects, including heading to Turf Paradise in Arizona as their back-up commentator. In the New Year, I’ll be back out with my colleagues practising on course, so feel free to come and say hello.

I can’t wait to get back out on track and keep improving my skills – and if any women or girls out there want to reach out because they want to give it a go, then I’m here for you.

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