Best of 2020: Maggie Wolfendale
by Ryan Martin
Just one live day – the New Year’s Eve card at Aqueduct Racetrack – remains in 2020 to complete a remarkable year of racing action on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit. The NYRA Press Office checked in with a selection of New York-based racing personalities to get their reflections on the memorable year.
As a third-generation horsewoman, Maggie Wolfendale’s life has been immersed in horse racing since birth. The daughter of Maryland-based conditioner Howard Wolfendale worked on-air at Pimlico Race Course and Colonial Downs before joining NYRA’s on-air talent as paddock analyst, a role that she has maintained since October 2010. In addition to her television duties, Wolfendale works alongside her husband, trainer Tom Morley, and gallops horses during morning training. Wolfendale also is involved with thoroughbred aftercare.
In a year of unprecedented tests and challenges, what would you say has been the highlight of 2020?
Wolfendale: Getting back to racing on June 3. It was a sense of relief; a sense of anticipation in getting back to the races. I think through it all, we proved, amidst a global pandemic, that we can be sustainable, and we can be successful as a business and thrive. At the end of the day, these horses need to run. It was a welcoming day to get back to work.
What has been your best betting/handicapping day of the year?
Wolfendale: It wasn’t at NYRA, but we were broadcasting from our homes and we were covering Churchill in mid-May. It was good for me because it’s out of my wheelhouse and I’m used to looking at horses in person and not through a TV screen. But I had five winners that day, including Cat’s Pajamas who paid around $50 [$57] for Graham Motion.
What was NYRA’s biggest accomplishment this year?
Wolfendale: Being able to get back to racing, by far. The fact that in the whole state of New York and this portion of the country, the COVID cases skyrocketed in March and April. The fact that we got everything under control and back to a safe environment. By the end of April, things were where they should be in terms of the protocols put in place. The fact that the TV department put on about 700 hours of live coverage and the amount of handle we increased by broadcasting to people’s living rooms, considering they couldn’t be here on track.
Broadcasting from your home is interesting. Especially when you have a young baby and child on the other side of the door, that can be a bit distracting. Fortunately, I have a good husband and mother that are able to help out. It was different, but it was a lot of fun in retrospect. I missed physically being around the horses more than anything else. That was the most painful thing to go through during the pandemic. Once I got back out to the barn, I felt so much better being around horses. Everyone in the TV department really rallied.
When watching the races on the NYRA circuit this year, did you notice any track biases for handicappers to consider?
Wolfendale: On the turf course at Aqueduct it paid to save ground, but that’s fairly typical in all turf races. That’s something you typically see at Saratoga as well over their inner turf course. There would be days, especially at Belmont Park, when it seems like if it rains and it was on the drying out spectrum, you wanted to be on the inside and have early speed.
Who would you say has been the most improved jockey?
Wolfendale: It was really fun to watch the progression of apprentice jockey Luis Cardenas. He obviously showed some talent earlier on in the year and, like everyone else, had the layoff in the springtime, but he’s just come back and just rode extremely well. It’s also been really enjoyable watching Kendrick Carmouche and all that he’s done, winning his first Grade 1 and getting the riding title during the fall meet at Aqueduct.
As far as trainers are concerned, who has stood out the most to you this season?
Wolfendale: I think each year, with new trainers that come in, you gather more information and learn more about what each trainer’s horses look like. It adds a tool and a nuance to looking at horses in what to expect when it comes to looking at horses from different barns. Each year, you learn a little bit more about each trainer. For example, Horacio DePaz is a fairly new face consistently on the Maryland and NYRA circuit and I’m learning more about his horses and what to expect, and he does a fantastic job. That’s helped me a bit in looking at horses in the paddock.
I think what Christophe Clement accomplished throughout the year has been phenomenal, especially considering that he doesn’t have the numbers that Chad Brown or Todd Pletcher do. A lot of the success comes when you have the right horses for the right spots, but once they run through those conditions, you hit that lull. Christophe brought over first time starter after first time starter to the winner’s circle, but he does a good job of capitalizing on his stock. Timeless Journey for example, won a maiden 40 at Saratoga and then wins a starter allowance, kind of surprisingly, and got things her own way, but then he brings her to the dirt and runs her through her allowance conditions on the dirt. That’s just what he’s done with his entire stable to win at the percentage that he has. I like the fact that it’s a family-style operation. Christophe has his son [Miguel Clement] working for him and he has longtime assistant Christophe Lorieul working for him for over 20 years, so it’s a very family type of establishment and operation. That’s been really fun to watch.
The 2020-21 winter meet at Aqueduct returns to action on Thursday, December 31 and continues through Sunday, March 28.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Aqueduct Racetrack, and the best way to bet every race of the winter meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
For additional information, and the complete winter meet stakes schedule, please visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/stakes-schedule.