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Blanchard, Middleton Among Cast Of First-Class Personalities At O'Briens


Published: January 28, 2011 9:44 am ET

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With the 2010 O’Brien Awards almost upon us, expectations for an entertaining night are mounting. The evening will feature some of harness racing's most recognizable personalities, including co-hosts Greg Blanchard and Ken Middleton.

Middleton, the Woodbine Entertainment Group’s standardbred announcer, will take the mic at Saturday’s Black Tie Gala for the eighth consecutive year. Joining him will be comrade Greg Blanchard, who recently assumed the position of Assistant Race Manager and Announcer at Western Fair Raceway. Blanchard's move to Western Fair came on the heels of a 10-year period of employment with WEG in which he wore many hats, both in front of the camera and behind the mic and keyboard.

"Working at the O'Brien Awards in the past and being asked to work again this year is something I take great pride in," Middleton told Trot Insider. "Being asked to help co-host the event is just as special to me as it would be for the owners of any horse to be named a finalist in a category. I've had the opportunity to work with great people over the years, and reuniting with former colleague Greg Blanchard will be a lot of fun. Greg's a pro, and I'm sure he feels the same way I do about being asked to help out. It is simply a world class night for everyone who attends, and to be involved is a real thrill."

“I was thrilled to be asked to co-host the O’Briens this year,” added Blanchard. “It’s an event I’ve been a part of, in one way or another, for a long time now and I’m looking forward to taking on this new role this year. It will be fun to work with Ken again. We were colleagues for a long time at WEG and are friends away from the track, too. We’ve both got a similar sense of humour, so we should have a lot of fun. Actually, someone asked me the other day if I would be doing the French salutation this year. I said no way, watching Ken do that is always one of my highlights. He’s just getting good at it after all these years!”

Both Middleton and Blanchard will without a doubt put on a great show, each having taken different approaches to prepare for their roles on Saturday. Returning home from a warm winter vacation in Cuba, Middleton will be fresh for his hosting duties while Blanchard will be warmed up having served as a host for the second straight weekend.

“I was fortunate enough to host the SBOAs again this year, which were held last weekend,” said Blanchard. “It was nice to do that the week before the O’Briens and it will help me in preparation for this weekend for sure.

“What I’m most excited about this year is the diverse group of connections that will be on hand,” he added. “We certainly have some of the biggest personalities in the sport, all under one roof, so it should definitely prove entertaining. There are also many great storylines and one of them is the race for Horse of the Year. I really think it’s a toss up. Any one of the ‘big three' -- Big Jim, Dreamfair Eternal and San Pail -- could win and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.”

"This year's Horse of the Year category is one of the tightest categories I can recall,” said Middleton, weighing in with his own predictions. “I see it coming down to San Pail and Dreamfair Eternal, and the mare earned my vote. She won major races both north and south of the border and she did so against an exceptional group of mares. She won on tracks of all sizes and she's Canadian through and through. Beating the boys in the Open at Woodbine late in the season was a nice feather in her cap, as well. San Pail had a fantastic year, too, and I think it will really be a coin toss between those two for Horse of the Year."

The winners will be announced at the annual banquet on Saturday, January 29 at the Delta Meadowvale Hotel in Mississauga, Ont.

To make your predictions, click here.

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