New York Superwoman: Wolfendale Wears Many Hats - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

New York Superwoman: Wolfendale Wears Many Hats

Wolfendale in the midst of delivering her analysis of a horse on Fabulous Fillies Day

While many racing patrons are just beginning a summer afternoon at Saratoga, setting up coolers and chairs ahead of the first race, Maggie Wolfendale's disembodied voice brings meaning to the stream of bay Thoroughbreds walking circles on the racetrack's television monitors. The New York Racing Association paddock analyst has just begun delivering her report on the first race (on a card of ten), but she's already seven hours into her day.

Wolfendale, 29, was described to me by a friend as the kind of person who makes horse people and broadcast journalists turn green with envy, because she manages to excel at being both so effortlessly. 'You kind of want to hate her because she's so good at everything, but she's just so nice to everyone that you end up wanting to be her best friend instead,' the person said.

The secret to her schedule, Wolfendale assured me, is lots of caffeine. The charisma is, I think, innate.

Wolfendale grew up on the racetrack as a third-generation horsewoman. Her paternal grandfather owned horses at Waterford Park in West Virginia; her maternal grandfather served as everything from a rider of show horses and trainer to a clerk of scales. Her father is Howard Wolfendale, a Maryland-based trainer, and her mother grew up galloping horses, so the way Maggie remembers it, she had little choice but to learn the family trade at an early age.

“I worked for my dad for eight years,” said Wolfendale. “I'm an only child, and it was, 'This is the family business. If you want to keep your show horses, you have to come work for us.' But then I fell in love with it. There's a horse that comes along every now and again that you love.”

That's why Wolfendale still rises at 4:30 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. each day of the Saratoga and Belmont meets and drives to the Tom Morley barn with George, a Jack Russell, in tow before the sun is warm. Wolfendale married Morley last spring and pitches in, helping to work horses while Morley keeps his string at Saratoga and Belmont. The couple has agreed she's on “light duty” for riding while at Saratoga as she juggles her other roles in the racing world, but that still amounts to two or three horses on busy mornings.

Wolfendale and "Stan" practice their dressage
Wolfendale and “Stan” practice their dressage

From there, most people would go back to bed for a few hours, but Wolfendale heads 30 minutes out of town to the boarding barn where she keeps “Stan,” an off-track horse she has been training this year after he left the Morley barn. Stan is a gelding and was owned in his racing days by a roofer on Long Island who had nowhere to keep a retired horse, so Wolfendale stepped up. He's still learning to convert “barrel forward” to “hold it together” in dressage tack, but he's progressing well and will move on to a quiet riding home when the right person comes along.

Wolfendale is a rider's rider—so light and still in the tack that you notice the horse before you notice her. She takes her time with her horses. At the track, regular mount (and her current barn favorite) Noble Cornerstone is allowed to watch other workers train before getting down to business himself. Stan gets a little extra time to navigate the rocks on the path to the arena due to stiffness from an old injury. In return, they remain calm and willing in her hands.

“I try to stay very quiet with the horses,” she said. “The ones that you get on that you really like, they can do silly, silly stuff and you just laugh at them.”

Her particular brand of patient observation and horse sense (presumably along with a killer memory and great note-taking skills) come in handy in the afternoons. Wolfendale has an average of ten minutes to look over the entire field (and her iPad) from the time it enters the paddock until the moment the NYRA cameras switch over to her for a thoughtful analysis.

Part of the challenge in Wolfendale's job is to think of the horseplayers looking for a good price on a horse with a chance, but also break down her terminology to the casual fan who can't read a horse's body language or body type. She also has to hit the line between honesty and diplomacy—if a popular horse doesn't look up to snuff, she has to find a way to be honest about it without slamming the trainer, especially since she might see them around the track the next morning. Finding the right words isn't always easy: she's gotten threats before. But she's paid to be honest, and she doesn't hold back.

There's also the issue of her ties with the Morley barn.

Morley (left) ponies Wolfendale and Noble Cornerstone at Saratoga
Morley (left) ponies Wolfendale and Noble Cornerstone at Saratoga

“I try to not talk about his horses as much as possible,” she said. “Obviously I have to in some instances. I try to be completely objective, like I'm seeing them for the first time, but if it's one that I get on in the morning then I'll relay what I've been seeing in the morning.”

When she must say something, she tries to be up front with the public about her ties with the horse before her—and up front with herself about its chances. While Morley lost his voice earlier in the meet trying to bring a horse home, Wolfendale watched Amazing Anne run fourth in the New York Stallion Series Stakes with all the calm of someone who already knew the outcome. She said she does get nervous when a Morley horse runs and exuberant when they win, but she's been discouraged by NYRA from making an appearance in the winner's circle, which disappoints her. It's one of the trade-offs that comes with being the paddock analyst, a job that Wolfendale has been aiming for since she was a child.

“I just always wanted to do it,” she said. “Growing up going to the track and watching Jeanine Edwards, Charlsie Cantey, and even Kim Goodwin, who did Maryland for several years, it appealed to me. My mom always said, 'You're a very good writer and speaker, and you should try to pursue that.'”

The other trade-off is that by the time she switches off the remote microphone apparatus around her waist, she's been on the job for 12 hours and isn't finished yet—the evening might hold some time in the NYRA offices or dinner with Morley clients. As the Saratoga meet ends, she moves to Belmont and repeats the same cycle on Long Island, with a half-hour dark day television show thrown in. She admits that since her wedding, she's thought about what it would be like to work in the barn again full-time, but for now, she loves the saddle and the microphone too much to leave either—even when it gets tough to do both.

“I had a dream last night that it never ended,” she laughed in the middle of one of her marathon days at Saratoga. “It was 10 p.m. and I was still at the track. The stakes races ended at 7:00 and then it just kept going with claimers.”

Paulick Report Icon

Receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts, promotions, and much more!

Become An Insider

Support our journalism and access bonus content on our Patreon stream

Learn More