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Meet Your O'Brien Award Emcees

Published: January 7, 2017 10:03 am ET

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Standardbred Canada is pleased to announce that Ken Middleton and Jason Portuondo will co-host the 2016 O’Brien Awards on Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel in Mississauga, Ont.

Middleton is Woodbine Entertainment Group’s Standardbred race announcer and has been the regular anchor for the O’Brien Awards Gala. The 2016 awards will mark the 14th consecutive year that he will co-host the event.

Taking the stage with Middleton will be his colleague, Jason Portuondo, one of the on-air Standardbred commentators at Mohawk and Woodbine. This is Portuondo’s second time co-hosting the national awards. The Mississauga, Ont. native also helped out with the 2008 O’Brien show. The former regular anchor on Rogers Sportsnet returned to the Woodbine Entertainment Group in May of last year. In addition, he's also the trackside reporter for WEG's horse racing broadcasts on TSN and is a host of Talkin Horses on CTV and G98.7FM. Portuondo's previous career stops include TVG, CHCH, CBC, Fan 590 and 680 News.

Let’s learn a little more about the emcees:

How did your childhood prepare you for your job today?

Ken - I had the chance to do a lot of different things related to the sport at an early age, and that clearly helped me grow my love for racing. I groomed horses, helped train horses and even owned them when I was going to high school. I also had a good grasp on the management side of racing due to my mom and dad's involvement in the sport. I quickly understood the importance of all the different roles being played in the industry. Gaining that respect for people on both sides of the fence in the industry was key.

Jason - I always did a lot of talking as a kid, and loved going to the races with my dad and uncle who both owned horses. Not many people know this, but my first job was on the harness side at Greenwood Racetrack with Harold Stead. I also have been a hot walker, exercise rider and pony person. Now, I have cashed in on the ultimate Exacta!

What one accomplishment are you most proud of?

Ken - In the last few years, I've been very proud to be a part of The Stable That God Loves. The project, created by my good friend, Bill Galvin, has helped so many people in so many different ways. It's fulfilling to see so many people generously donating part of their winnings to help those in need.

Jason - Becoming a parent, it's the toughest but most gratifying thing.

What is the most embarrassing moment you’ve had when working in broadcasting or announcing?

Ken - I was announcing in Hanover years ago, and I called a horse the wrong name for an entire race.

Jason - Swearing on air while going to commercial...

Who do you admire in the broadcast industry?

Ken - Al Michaels, US Television Sportscaster (announced two decades of Monday Night Football).

Jason – The late Stuart Scott, Anchor & Reporter for ESPN, and Chris “Boomer” Berman, Anchor for ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Who do you admire in horse racing?

Ken - I admire the horses more than anything else. They're the ones that lay it all on the line every time they step foot on the track.

Jason - The horses, they are some amazing athletes!

Do you have hidden talents most people don’t know about?

Ken - A lot of people might not know that my fiancee, Stacey Reinsma, and I operate a small stable of horses. I love getting up in the morning and heading to the barn. I crave the hands-on interaction with horses on a daily basis. We've been lucky to have some good fortune with the yearlings we've purchased in recent years, and we've forged some great relationships with partners along the way. It's incredibly satisfying to see a horse you've purchased from a yearling sale make it to the races. Winning is a bonus, and winning an O'Brien Award one day would be extra special!

Jason - I can touch my nose with my tongue! (Laughs.)

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Ken - My guilty pleasure is popcorn with lots of butter.

Jason - Potato Chips/Oreo Cookies

Favourite sports team?

Ken – Boston Bruins

Jason - Boston Bruins

One thing most people don’t know about you?

Ken - I've been told I'm a very good cook. On my days off, I enjoy researching different recipes and taking a stab at cooking a culinary masterpiece.

Jason - I am a shy person.

What do you look forward to the most at the O’Brien Awards?

Ken - I love catching up with people who I normally wouldn't see while I'm at work. The night of the O'Brien Awards gives me a chance to reconnect with a lot of those people.

Jason - Working alongside Kenny and seeing who wins these awards!

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