Jill Byrne

Jill Byrne

“Jill Byrne and I have known each other for many years, through many different roles and in each of them, Jill has excelled.  I first got to know Jill when her primary role was as exercise rider and integral part of the Pat Byrne racing team through several championship campaigners. Not long after, she traded boots and a helmet for a mic and camera, and we worked together at TVG, first in Kentucky on ‘The Works’ shows and later, on major races and events across the country.  The next  step saw her working for Churchill Downs, first as paddock analyst and eventually running the entire television department for Churchill Downs, Incorporated.  After that, it was on to the Breeders’ Cup, where in addition to numerous other responsibilities, Jill assembled the on air team for the Breeders’ Cup Players Show Simulcast which I continue to be a part of.

In her current position at Colonial Downs, Jill wears many hats—and performs all skills equally and expertly—assembling teams from television to racing to maintenance, doing an interview one minute then jumping in to problem solve in the racing office the next, then jumping on a tractor if the need arises.  As has been the case all along, Jill’s knowledge and passion for horses and racing combine with her attention to detail to make her the perfect person for the job—whatever that job may be.  Her willingness to do whatever it takes contributed to the successful return of Thoroughbred Racing to Virginia, and her knowledge, expertise and passion will continue to help the track get through the current difficult times.

While we’ve worked together on many different broadcasts and projects, what I most appreciate about Jill is illustrated through a more personal story– but one that’s not unique to me, I’m certain.  When I was new in Louisville and desperate to find a good landing place for my recently retired racehorse, Jill jumped to the rescue, connecting me with a close friend who, at the time was looking for a horse to ride.  Jill also offered her own home and farm as a temporary stop until we could work out the details and took outstanding care of my horse until he went on to her friend’s stable, where he received more of the same. And that hospitality isn’t restricted to horses.  After early mornings and long hours while working on The Works,  Jill would often host the team at her home, bringing everyone together for food and karaoke, a welcomed respite and opportunity to grow closer as a team.

An outstanding horsewoman, hard working, dedicated and determined along with a lot of fun, Jill is a SheHero I’m proud to call a colleague and friend.”

          Caton Bredar, TVG

“Jill works hard and she recognizes hard work. She knows how to assemble a team. She fought for me to join her at Churchill Downs, and I will always be grateful for that. A ‘whatever it takes’ type person, she gets things done. With Jill, there’s a time to be serious, but also a time to have fun and enjoy the experience of what you’re doing. It’s that balance that breeds success. She’s done so much in the horse racing industry and should be super proud of her variety of accomplishments. From crashing the hotel pool after hours, to donut pulls to golf cart rides in the infield after Derby, the Pleasant Brat is one of a kind.”

          Joe Kristufek, Racing Analyst and Handicapper

“Jill Byrne and I have been friends for over 30 years. We met at Belmont Racetrack where we were both galloping racehorses. After several years it became clear that it would not be great advantage for either one of us to be an exercise rider for a life long career. There was not intellectual growth there and it is far too physically taxing on the body.  I decided to go into human physical medicine, studying Physical Therapy at the University of Miami and Jill’s post exercise rider journey began in Louisville,  KY in the very late 90s.

Keep in mind that horse racing as an industry is very male biased. It always has been and continues to be so. Jill started out as a Paddock Analyst  at Churchill Downs. This included handicapping races and being in front of the camera, interviewing various racing figures such as jockeys, trainers and horse Owners. Keep in mind that she never had formal training and that she was expected to learn as she went. Her work ethic is second to none. While she was at Churchill Downs, she was approached by TVG and did the same type of job as an analyst and handicapper . You see more female analysts and handicappers today, but she was definitely a pioneer.

After several years in front of the camera she decided that she wanted to work  behind the camera on the  production side of things. Through hard work, self teaching  and perseverance, she worked her way to Director of Programming and Broadcasting. This is a position that encompasses everything from managing facilities to actual television programming, overseeing the construction of the JumboTron screen.

At various times Jill was expected to take many risks that would intimidate the best of us, but she always went forward. Now is she Vice President of Racing for Colonial Downs in Virginia. I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is an excellent role model for young girls that are going into male dominated industries. She went from being an exercise rider on the backside of the racetrack to the VP of Racing on the Front Side of the Racetrack. It hardly gets much better. Jill Byrne embodies the SheHero persona.”

          Dr. Shirley Jerkens, Jimmy Jerkens Racing 

“I would like to say a few things about Jill Byrne. Jill is a superb manager of people. She handles every problem calmly and professionally and has an amazing ability to remember people and retain relationships with them. Jill loves racing and it shows. She is not afraid to tackle problems that are new to her, and educate herself on a subject. Jill has a lot of moral integrity, along with a sense of humor and it shows in her work.”

          Allison DeLuca, Colonial Downs Stakes Coordinator

“When the Colonial Downs Group hired Jill Byrne to oversee Virginia’s racing revival at Colonial Downs in 2019, they could not have made a better choice. Jill reached out to her many industry contacts and was able to secure top notch hires in the racing department including Race Secretary Allison DeLuca, Stakes Coordinator Shane Burke, Track Announcer Jason Beem, Starter Anthony Ranno, Stall Superintendent Carlos Garcia and many other talented individuals. Her vision for the Commonwealth’s rebirth after a six-year absence didn’t end with personnel hires though. Her persistence, dedication and attention to details are obvious to everyone she comes in contact with. Jill starts her day before sunrise, welcoming horsemen at the gap as they set foot on the track for morning workouts. She finishes her day in darkness as well, long after horses in the evening’s final race are secure back in their stalls. And in between, she touts the track’s sparkling Secretariat Turf Course to media members around the country, while implementing top notch safety protocols because our horses’ well-being is her main concern.

Despite a most challenging and abbreviated 2020 season that featured extreme heat, untimely storms and a multitude of Covid 19-related issues, Colonial Downs’ future is brighter than ever thanks to Jill’s tireless efforts the last two years.

          Debbie Easter, Executive Director – Virginia Thoroughbred Association

“I have probably known Jill for about 15 years give to take a few, I was not around in the Favorite Trick years but word on the street is she was a very good hand on a horse. Jill is and has always been a pioneer of sorts, never afraid to step or think out of the box. I first met Jill during her stint at TVG. Fun and knowledgable, she soon began to show up the ‘others’ with her vast knowledge of the Thoroughbred industry and her connections to those within.

Arlington Park has always has held a special place for me, and getting to work several Arlington Millions with Jill and Caton Bredar was about as much fun anyone can have. We dubbed ourselves the ‘Three Non- Blondes.’

Jill is the sort of person who keeps opening new doors, windows, or just blasting a hole through it all. What she did building the control room at Churchill Downs (with help of course) was nothing short of amazing. And well, we have all seen the big board 2 football-fields long. I was lucky enough to spend a few months working with Jill to build some content for the board, even traveling to New Orleans to shoot…..let’s just say there is never a dull moment with Jill around.

We have all seen the efforts put forward to get Colonial Downs in the forefront of the industry, and with Jill as Director of Racing one can only hope next year will be a better year for all concerned. Upward and onward for Ms. Byrne!”

           Zoe Cadman, XBTV

“Jill Byrne exemplifies the word professional.  A consummate horsewoman, broadcaster, executive and leader in thoroughbred racing, Jill has been as instrumental behind the scenes as she has in front of a camera.  Jill learned her craft at her father’s knee and the work ethic and knowledge she gained from his guidance has carried her through her career and is demonstrated in the great regard in which people hold her today.

I had known Jill through her racetrack days working with Pat Byrne as part of the team that captured three Breeders’ Cup World Championships with Favorite Trick, Countess Diana and Awesome Again and watched her hone her analytical skills on TVG before moving to Churchill Downs as Director of Broadcast & Programming.  Wherever I would go on the road to promote the Breeders’ Cup, I usually ran into Jill who was doing the same for TVG or Churchill Downs and you would be hard pressed to find anyone that worked harder to get the interview and get the footage she wanted.  Jill is a true ‘doer’.  When something needs to be done, she jumps in and gets it done.  I admire that immensely.  When I needed someone to fill a newly created position at the Breeders’ Cup, Jill was at the top of my wish list.  Jill took the Senior Director of Industry Relations job and it was like she’d done it all her life.  Incredibly adaptable, Jill mastered the position and quickly became an invaluable member of our team.  Her contacts in this industry are far reaching and impressive, horsemen respond to her as one of their own and rightly so.   Before leaving the Breeders’ Cup all too soon for Colonial Downs and her great opportunity there as Vice President of Racing, Jill was instrumental in connecting our internal teams in ways that were new and challenging and incredibly successful.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jill, she quite literally put racing back on the map in Virginia with the resurrection of Colonial Downs.  Her athleticism came in handy when she not only had to recruit horsemen to fill the stalls but she had to build the stalls as well.  She is not afraid of hard work and she will do whatever it takes to get the job done.  I admire her spirit and her dedication to giving her all in any situation.  Jill Byrne is truly a SheHero.”

          Dora Delgado, Breeders’ Cup