By Eileen McClory
American fans watching the Elitlopp, Sweden’s greatest race, on May 29 will spot a familiar figure as the outrider.
Wendy Ross, former television personality for the Meadowlands and parade marshal at Tioga Downs, is set to be the first American outrider at the elite race. Outriders are the riders on horseback that calm horses, catch runaway horses and make sure the horses and drivers get off the track safely.
“It’s important to me to represent the U.S. and the outriders, as the position is oftentimes underappreciated and a good outrider is so important as they save the lives of horses and drivers,” Ross said.
She said her name came up while officials discussed possible names of American outriders and she was offered the position via a phone call. She said she will undergo clearance from the Swedish Racing Commission so she can serve as an outrider on race day.
Ross has been an outrider for 17 years, starting in small fairs in her home state of Ohio. She started riding as a parade marshal at Tioga Downs in 2006 and was an outrider at the 2011 and 2012 Hambletonians at the Meadowlands.
She is known for a routine she did after the seventh race at Tioga and other races she marshaled at with an American flag to “America the Beautiful” on the back of her horse, Floyd. Ross said she will perform a similar routine while in Sweden, though she added she didn’t know if she would be using an American song or a Swedish one.
Ross said she plans on taking Floyd, an Appendix Quarter horse, with her to Sweden, though the horse was retired in a ceremony May 15. Floyd is 23 years old, Ross said, and she has ridden with him for nine years.
“We have a special bond,” Ross said. “He’s saved a lot of guys. He established my career. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
She said after this last event, Floyd will be retired to Mark Ford’s farm in Middletown, N.Y., for the rest of his life.
Ross left her jobs at Tioga and the Meadowlands earlier this year, but said she was still just as involved with harness racing, even though her day job has changed.
She said her new job, as an account manager with a Pittsburgh pharmacy, came to her through a friend who owns more than 60 racehorses. Her current boyfriend, Kris Hite, is a trainer at the Meadows. She is still a part owner in multiple horses. Ross also plans on working at the Little Brown Jug broadcast, her third. She still goes out to the stables every day, she said; she simply switched her day job.
Ross comes from a family involved in harness racing for nearly 50 years. Her mother, Carol, was also an outrider at the Meadowlands, Ross said.
She added she was excited to go to Sweden because of how popular harness racing is there.
“Just the recognition was good,” she said. “It’s just good to go over there and represent and show how important (outriding) really is.”