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Middleton, Portuondo Back To Host O'Briens

Published: January 19, 2019 10:31 am ET

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Standardbred Canada is pleased to announce that Ken Middleton and Jason Portuondo will co-host the 2018 O’Brien Awards on Saturday, February 2 at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel in Mississauga, Ont.

This will be Middleton’s 16th consecutive year as a co-host for the O’Brien Awards. Middleton can usually be found behind the mic at Woodbine or Mohawk calling the Standardbred races, and when he’s not doing that, he’s in the barn, training and caring for his horses. Most recently Middleton has been recovering from shoulder surgery and undergoing extensive physiotherapy.

Back to join Middleton -- for the third consecutive year -- is his colleague, Jason Portuondo, one of the on-air Standardbred commentators at Mohawk and Woodbine. The former regular anchor on Rogers Sportsnet returned to the Woodbine Entertainment Group in May of 2017.

We caught up with Ken (KM) and Jason (JP) to get their thoughts on favourite O’Brien memories, the Super Bowl, and the 2019 harness racing season.

What was the first O’Brien Awards you attended?

KM - I honestly don’t remember, but it would likely fall somewhere in the late 90s after I made the move from Flamboro Downs to WEG.

JP - First year I attended the O'Brien Awards I believe was 2009.

Favourite O’Brien Awards memory?

KM - I have two of them. The year my parents came was a great personal memory because they’ve always been proud of the various contributions I’ve made within the industry. It was a proud, personal feeling knowing they were in the audience and being supportive of me. The emotional speech made by Ed Sayfie when he accepted the Cam Fella Award for his late, great pacer, Admirals Express, is another memory that stands out. He spoke from the heart about a horse that left us with so many great memories.

JP - Favourite memory was watching the Somebeachsomewhere group celebrate a big night.

How do you get yourself psyched up for hosting the O’Brien Awards?

KM - I do it by appreciating how much hard work, coordination and preparation has been done by others before the night even begins -- and I take that very seriously. It helps me focus on executing the role I’ve been asked to do. It also helps when you can work beside a guy like Jason Portuondo – he’s a pro who is always on. I feed off of his energy and enthusiasm.

JP - This is a marquee event which brings its own hype...I just have to show up!

What horse (from O’Brien finalists) are you most looking forward to returning to the races this year?

KM - I would say Mcwicked is the horse I’m most excited to see return in 2019. He was a real warrior in 2018, and hopefully he can take over right where he left off last year.

JP - Probably Prescient Beauty who ended the year with a bang winning The Three Diamonds.

What horse or person do you think will have the biggest cheering section at the O’Brien Awards?

KM - Without a doubt, the biggest support will be there for caretakers Scott Lecain and Trevor Forgie. We’re all appreciative and proud of the heroism they showed just before Christmas in helping save the lives of so many of the horses involved in the barn fire at First Line Training Centre.

JP - Likely the Casie Coleman crew, they could be sitting on a huge evening.

If you could have any professional sports broadcaster co-host the O’Brien Awards with you, or on their own, who would that be and why?

KM - Great question -- and my great answer is Jason Portuondo. I can’t think of a better person to share the stage with. His professionalism combined with his energy, wit, excitement and knowledge of the sport and its participants make him an easy top pick for me. I like to think we have great chemistry together, as well, and because he’s a Bruins fan it seals the deal for me.

JP - Hmmm, that's tough...I’ll say Chris Berman who's a legendary broadcaster, likely not well versed in harness racing but would somehow still pull it off.

Tell us your favourite racing memory from 2018.

KM - I’m biased in saying this, but winning my first start as a trainer with our two-year-old pacer, Shadowofthenorth. He was a colt we purchased as a yearling in London, and breaking him, developing him and getting him to the winner’s circle was extra special for me. All those steps in grabbing the golden ring come rushing back in that walk back to the winner’s circle. Having friends and family in the winner’s circle to celebrate the occasion was the best part of it all.

JP - Favourite 2018 memory was watching Mcwicked beat Lazarus in the Canadian Pacing Derby, especially since I was among the very few who picked him.

Predictions for the two teams that will play in this year’s Super Bowl?

KM - I’d love to see the Saints and Patriots go at it. Two veteran quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Tom Brady along with two great football minds in coaches Bill Belichick and Sean Payton.

JP - It's wide open but will take a shot and say New England/New Orleans...Brady vs Brees.

Who do you think will be Horse of the Year?

KM - I voted for Mcwicked. He had a dominant season and deserves to be recognized for it. It didn’t matter the track size, the post position, the competition or the type of trip he was subjected to – he always let his foes know he was there.

JP - Mcwicked in a romp!!!

Who are you most looking forward to seeing on the Red Carpet this year?

KM - Well, in my best Captain Obvious voice I’m going to say the Red Carpet Emcee, Kelly Spencer. I haven’t had the chance to chat with her in person since she announced she was departing Grand River Raceway to embark on a new career, so it will be nice to catch up and see how things are going.

JP - Every year I hope Salma Hayek will surprise me...fingers crossed again, but I’ll settle for either of the two Future Stars.

Standardbred Canada will present the 30th edition of the O’Brien Awards on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at the Hilton Mississauga/Meadowvale Hotel. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased by contacting the Member & Stakeholder Relations Department at 905-858-3060. Tickets are $200 each (includes HST) and include a cocktail reception, gourmet dinner, wine, and complimentary portrait.

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