04/01/2010 12:00AM

Q&A: Jessica Pacheco

Fair Grounds

Simulcast analyst for Fair Grounds and Arlington Park, she will be part of the NBC Sports team covering Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Birthdate: March 8, 1975, in El Paso, Texas

Family: Single

Got into racing because. . .: "Because of destiny, I think. It's something that sort of happened on its own and then snowballed. I just followed the path. It surprises me every day, and although I do very much love what I do, I never, ever saw myself doing what I am doing now."

Were you a racing fan as a kid, or did your interest come later in life? "Definitely later. I was only vaguely aware of the Kentucky Derby until I was about 15. And then I started watching all the network coverage for the Derby every year. That's how I initially became a racing fan. It was love of the sport - the pageantry of it all, the horses, the riders, the trainers, the stretch duels, the storylines. I loved it. But it was all just a peripheral hobby, something to be sure to watch when it was on. Nobody that I knew was interested, though, so it was a solo hobby. And, for the most part, most of the people that I know in the 'real world' - the non-racing world - still don't really get it. That's why I think it is so very important that we get the sport out there and market it better. Because if it wasn't for network coverage of the major races, it would have bypassed me altogether and I never would have even known what I was missing."

When did you first start handicapping the races? "I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand everything. So I went to Sunland Park a few times and tried to figure it out. I would get a program and then I'd bring it home and teach myself how to read it. I'd watch races and really just try to figure out what was going on. It was a major time of trial and error. I wasn't betting then, just trying to learn. Then I started figuring it out. So when I would watch the network coverage every year, it started to click what Randy Moss or Charlsie Cantey was saying. I started getting Daily Racing Forms just to follow along for the big races. And then I got good. So I started buying handicapping books and basically immersed myself in it and just taught myself everything that I possibly could, but still just as a fan of the sport. And then I started getting really good, and it actually took a few years for me to put two and two together and think about starting to bet. Luckily, the next book I got was a money-management book by Barry Meadow, and pretty soon I was betting. But at this time I had been living in Austin for years, so I had to go to Manor Downs or, on a good weekend, Retama whenever I had the time, until I realized that I could get an ADW account online. And then it was over. I started betting and making money."

How did you make the transition from fan to someone working in the sport? "I got pushed into it. True story. I was making money betting, and I think I was having so much success because I taught myself by reading and watching replays, and I never got negatively influenced by anyone in real life, and I never picked up bad habits or ideas. It was all very isolated learning, and the books and races were my teachers. But I was still grinding it out. And then I just happened to run into somebody - that destiny thing - who was a long-time, successful professional horseplayer who made serious money. So, of course, I hung around him as much as I could and tried to learn even more. He was the one who suggested I do what I am doing now. I was very resistant to the idea at first, but I have a lot of respect for him, and he was so convinced that I needed to be doing this that he ended up talking me into it. It was on his suggestion that I initially contacted Louisiana Downs, which is where I first started in this industry on this side of it."

What approach do you take to handicapping, be it analyzing pace, using speed figures, etc.? "I think to be successful it's very important to have flexibility in your thinking. I think of it like a big toolbox full of handicapping tools, and every race is a unique puzzle, so for every unique race you use a different set of tools. And the tools are always weighted differently, depending on the race. The key is knowing which tool to use on which race."

While women are interested in racing, it's safe to say that few are passionate handicappers like you are. What do you think racing can do to appeal to that largely untapped audience? "I hate to generalize, but I think most would come in through the same door as I did, as a fan of the pure sport. Yes, it's a gambling sport, and I obviously love that part of it, too, but it's also a fascinating and dramatic sport from a fan's point of view, and maybe it should be presented that way, also, like the sport of kings that it is. But racing is not easily accessible right now. I learned that the hard way. I had to dig for every bit of information I got. I had to go to Manor Downs by myself. That's an experience not a lot of females would enjoy. I had fun with it, but it's definitely not for everybody."