Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Edwards Looks Back On Career Of Asking Right Questions

It all started with a question.

Throughout her career at ESPN, Jeannine Edwards has learned the greatest stories often begin with the ability to ask the right question. The award-winning reporter may be best-known for covering the sidelines of college football games, but she got her start as a Thoroughbred racing analyst.

Edwards’ love affair with horses began in the summer after her junior year of high school, when she asked her parents for permission to look for a job on the racetrack.

“Mom and dad weren’t overly thrilled,” she recalled. “We didn’t have any connections to the industry, but my mom’s uncle lived not far from Belmont Park… I had fallen in love with the sport watching horses like Affirmed, Alydar and Seattle Slew, and I guess I had been bitten by the racing bug.”

Walking around the backside of Belmont with her mother, Edwards had a list of the trainers she hoped to work for. One of the first she spotted was LeRoy Jolley. It was 1980; he had just won the Kentucky Derby with Genuine Risk.

Edwards gathered up all her courage and asked Jolley for a hotwalking job. He looked her over, she remembered, then looked at her mother and said, “We’ll take care of her.”

“It was such an exciting time with Genuine Risk and the Triple Crown season,” said Edwards. “I remember that for the first few weeks my calves would hurt from all the walking! But I loved it.”

She worked for Jolley again the next summer after graduation, but she really wanted to ride. At the end of the summer, Edwards left for Ocala to learn to break babies with Fred Hooper. A year later, Hooper sent her up to New York with a group of those young horses under the watchful eyes of trainer Eddie Plesa.

Edwards would later try her hand at race-riding, but making weight was an issue due to her height. Taking a job for Mark Casse, she worked her way up from exercise rider to assistant trainer. Deciding to pursue a career as a trainer, Edwards accepted an offer from Hooper to train a handful of horses at Tampa Bay Downs.

A marriage to jockey Jim Edwards saw her move to Maryland, where simulcasting director Jim Mango saw the potential for her on-screen talent. It was only one year later, in 2000, that Edwards was offered her first job with ESPN, as a studio analyst for the National Best 7 show. Flying to Tulsa on a near-weekly basis, Edwards was grateful the Maryland Jockey Club was kind enough to accommodate her new schedule.

Eventually, of course, Edwards had to let go of her commitment to the MJC to work full-time for ESPN. Her first college football game as a sideline reporter was 12 years ago. Though she had been a cheerleader in high school, Edwards had only ever watched football from a fan’s perspective.

“I really didn’t know anything; where to go or where to be,” she said. “It was really interesting to figure it all out, how there is so much more depth to the game than you see from the stands or on television. It’s stuff we take for granted, like the players changing their gloves or their shoes when it rains.”

She quickly became a well-recognized and well-respected figure on the sideline of the football field. Of course, she continued to return to Pimilco each year to cover the Preakness Stakes.

“You have to develop little tactics to be a good sideline reporter,” Edwards explained. “I think my skills from covering horse racing translated to the football games, though. It is all pretty symbiotic. You just have to have your eyes and ears open and be aware of your surroundings.”

Two people she credits with teaching her how to ask the right questions and how to hone her reporting skills are ESPN’s Mike McQuade and Ed Placey. McQuade focused on the economy of words.

“He’d say, ‘If you can say it in one minute, you can say it in 45 seconds,’” she said.

Placey, the coordinating producer for ESPN’s college football programming, helped Edwards improve her understanding of her audience. “Take me inside the game” and “be my eyes and ears on the field” were two of his favorite sayings, she remembered.

In 2017, Edwards lost her decade-long riding partner, Ashkal Way

During the course of her college football career, Edwards (now divorced) met and fell in love with Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. She had been covering the traumatic story of the loss of his wife due to cancer, and the two slowly developed a friendship. Eventually it became something more, and today she is married and living with him in the Sooner State.

With all her success, Edwards’ retirement at the end of December may have come as a surprise to some of her fans. She is stepping away in order to take care of her ailing mother in New Jersey, but there were several other contributing factors.

Edwards lost her father in June of 2017, and in September she lost the equine love of her life. A retired Grade 1-winning gelding she had covered during his racing career, Ashkal Way had been her personal riding horse for 10 years. The horse inexplicably fractured his shoulder in the pasture and had to be euthanized. His ashes now rest on Edwards’ mantle.

In addition, Spencer’s father is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“I just needed to be more available for my family,” Edwards said by way of explanation. “Besides, I’m completely satisfied with my career. It was a wonderful long ride during which I met a number of generous and interesting people. But I believe that there is sort of a life span for everything, and the timing was right.”

Where will we see Edwards next?

She is open to the idea of major horse racing event coverage, including the Preakness if the MJC asks it of her. Like always, it will depend on who is asking the questions.

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Edwards Looks Back On Career Of Asking Right Questions appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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