Sally Iggulden has been obsessed with horses for just about as long as she can remember.
“It’s strange really as my parents weren’t particularly horsey, although from a very young age we had ponies at home,” says Sally whose innovative approach has turned round the fortunes of Beverley Racecourse since she took over in 2000.
“I started competing when I was about eight and just really loved everything about it.”
Like many girls her age she was obsessed with everything horsey, but unlike most girls who grow out of it, Sally’s obsession just grew.
Sally realised that she wasn’t good enough to make a career out of competing herself and so set about researching the best route into racing.
“After my A-Levels I really didn’t quote know what to do. My parents suggested being a chartered surveyor but I knew in my heart of hearts that I really wanted a job in the horse racing industry. I was quite business minded and I really wanted to work in the horse world and so I set about looking into the best courses to allow me to pursue a career in racing. I knew even then that it was an incredibly difficult world to get into.
“It was the ’90s. It was a very male dominated sport and you had to know the right people in the industry, which I didn’t particularly. But things have changed so much since I started in the industry. There are a lot of women involved now.”
Sally chose to study a specific course which she knew would give her the biggest chance of pursuing the career she had set her sights one.
“I did a degree in Agricultural Business Management from Wye College, Kent. I knew a couple of people working in the industry who had done the same course.” After graduating Sally was lucky enough to win one of just 12 places on the British Horse Racing Association’s graduate programme which involved her being mentored by some of the best in the business.
“It was a great opportunity although it was a bit unfortunate. It was my boyfriend at the time who told me about the programme and we both applied, I got a place and he didn’t. The relationship didn’t last long after that.”
A job at Ascot Racecourse followed. “I was right in the thick of it and I loved it,” recalls Sally. “From there it put me in a very good position to meet people within the industry.”
When she was offered the job as racecourse manager at Beverley when she was just 23 making her the youngest person in charge of a racecourse the ambitious young woman jumped at the chance.
“I never thought of it as any big deal. I was very determined and knew what I wanted to achieve. I’d never been to Beverley; I’d hardly even been to Yorkshire before. My sister drove me up to a cottage near the racecourse and that was it.”
What could have ben a difficult transition for a determined young woman, was made easier by her dedicated team.
“They were all amazing and so supportive. I said they had all been doing a great job and I wanted to work with them to make Beverley even better.” And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see she has succeeded. “I planned to be here about five years and I have stayed here 15 and still have a lot of things want to do. I still enjoy every single day I turn up for work.”
The racecourse now hosts 19 flat race fixtures within its season of April to September 2015. Over the past 15 years, the racecourse has invested around £5m improving the fabric of the buildings and upgrading its visitor experience and hospitality offer. The 2015 season opened with the launch of the Premier Enclosure bars following a spend of £700,000 and an announcement of a £1m prize fund. Under Sally’s tenure to date, the racecourse has seen a rise in visitor numbers to over 100,000 and an increase of £1m turnover.
“It is about making coming to the races a really enjoyable experience for everyone. Once you get them here then they really enjoy themselves and they will return,” says Sally who actively encourages families to attend a lot of the meetings.
You might have thought that a woman who spends all day working in the horse racing industry wouldn’t want to set eyes on a four-legged friend once she leave the racecourse behind. You’d be wrong.
Sally is as obsessed with horses at home as she is at work. She and her husband, George Primarolo who luckily was also involved in the racing world before retraining as a solicitor, recently moved house close to the racecourse.
“I went to see the house, walked straight past it and into the paddock, to see the stables and said we’ll take it. My husband said: “You haven’t even seen the house yet’” I didn’t need to, it was perfect.” Sally has five horses. She likes to buy horses normally having only seen a picture on the internet.
“I like to buy them cheap and then spend a year turning them into show horses. I haven’t time to travel to Wales or Ireland and so I look on the internet and if I like the look of a horse and it’s the right price I’ll buy it. The first I see of them is when they walk down the ramp from the horse box. It’s a very exciting moment, I like to think I have a good eye.” And it seems she has. Last year one of the horse she’d bought from the internet won the Horse of the Year Show and that’s not her only win.
“We do well at country fairs up and down the country. I really enjoy it.”
Although she was born and brought up in Kent, Sally says she adores east Yorkshire.
“It is a great time to be in Yorkshire. My friends used to say where are you living? Now they have all heard of Yorkshire.”