For as long as he can remember, television sports personality Joe Tilley has always enjoyed talking horses. Two years ago, he came up with a plan to share that passion with a bigger audience.
He can trace his affinity for horse racing, both thoroughbreds and standardbreds, back to his teenage days when his brother, 11 years his senior, introduced him to the sport.
“I loved it right away,” said Tilley. “My brother’s a big fan and he turned me on to the sport. It’s been a big part of my life for a long time.”
It led Tilley, best known for his years of on-air work as a CTV anchor, to map out a plan for a thoroughbred television program, a mission he undertook in 2012.
“I had this idea that we needed to see more about the great thoroughbred industry on TV,” recalled Tilley. “I sent in a proposal to Sue Leslie (president, HBPA) and we had a few discussions. There was some definite interest on the part of the HBPA, but it just didn’t work out at that time.”
This summer, Tilley once again reached out to Leslie, who is also the president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA). He wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but a quick return phone call caught him off-guard.
“It was July and I thought that I should reach out to Sue, just to see if anything had changed,” remembered Tilley. “I got a call back right away and she said, ‘Let’s do this. How about September?’ It really took me by surprise, but I was grateful for the swift response along with Sue’s commitment and support.”
The end result was a Talkin’ Horses, a 10-week show that aired on CTV’s Ontario network, as well as on TSN.
“Everyone knows that our industry is going through a critical period,” noted Leslie. “Every individual and organization within the industry must assist OHRIA to ensure its ultimate success. One of the HBPA’s contributions is this TV initiative. Through it, we hope to demonstrate what a terrific pastime thoroughbred racing can be from a fan’s perspective and why owning your own racehorse can be such an unparalleled thrill.”
Tilley, who also handles executive producer duties, was joined on-air by veteran television personality and horse racing analyst Jason Portuondo. Other contributors included award-winning thoroughbred writer and handicapper Jennifer Morrison (a frequent contributor to Canadian Thoroughbred), Fort Erie commentator Elissa Blowe and Maddie-Jo Tilley, an honours journalism graduate of Humber College.
“I’m very proud of how things went,” said Tilley, who co-owned (along with Bill and Blair Burgess) a standardbred horse by the name of Hi Class Almahurst in 1991. “Everything fell into place as we hoped. It felt right. I was really happy with the team we put together, too. There were no egos at all on that set. Everyone that was part of it wanted to make sure it was perfect. It was a whirlwind to put it all together, but we managed to do it. I give a lot of credit to the HBPA for stepping up and giving us a shot.”
Tilley has already sent in a pitch for the show to return in 2015.
According to an HPBA press release, ‘HPBA directors are viewing the first 10 episodes of Talkin’ Horses as a pilot project. Success should encourage a longer run in 2015 with corporate sponsorship and an even more ambitious format.
There’s hope that the strong start out of the gate this year will mean more Talkin’ Horses next year.
“A lot of hard work and effort went into getting the show to air,” noted Tilley. “We certainly had plenty of positive feedback from viewers and within the industry. Having a show like this is very important, to show people out there just how wonderful the sport is and to help promote all the stars in the game. We were very happy with how things turned out this year. Hopefully, there’s more Talkin’ Horses to come.”
As Tilley himself might say, ‘Stay tuned for more.’