On Wednesday, they are off for a new season at Beverley racecourse. Sarah Todd reports how a female team has moved it up the national rankings.
FEW industries have as many stereotypes as the world of horseracing. Beverley Racecourse has been busy bucking most of them.
It all started 11 years ago when the committee appointed a 23-year-old slip of a girl as its racecourse manager. Since then, Sally Iggulden, now 34 and promoted to chief executive, has proved herself so much more than a pretty face.
She’s a shrewd operator, coming up with events and initiatives that have not only sent the turnstiles into a spin – but made the tweedy traditionalists take their hats off to her.
There are four other women in senior roles at the racecourse, a fact which Iggulden is quick to point out wasn’t a deliberate decision.
“All I’ve ever wanted is to employ the best person for a job,” she says. “It’s just how it’s happened that those top applicants have been the women.”
The name Witty will be familiar to many Country Week readers. Fiona Witty, assistant manager, is married to farmer Simon, of the ploughing match dynasty.
Then there’s Thixendale farmer’s daughter Charlotte Brader, who is the business development and marketing executive. Annual badgeholders are looked after by Anthea Woodmansey and – perhaps most unusual – Sylvia Merrington is part of the grounds staff.
“I can’t think of any other full-time female grounds person,” says Sally Iggulden. “Sylvia’s involved in getting the surface ready for racing, sorting out the stables – everything the men do.”
Last year, the racecourse won a top award for its Lucky in Love racenight – a networking event with romantic possibilities for singles; just the kind of idea that has seen Beverley move up the racecourse rankings (there are 60 courses in the country) to 12th place.
“I suppose that’s my overall ambition, to see Beverley get the national recognition it deserves,” says Sally. “When I arrived, it was something of a well-kept secret. It’s immensely satisfying to see it now up there ranked among the more famous courses.”
Sally has no illusions that, for many racegoers, the sport itself isn’t the main attraction. “What we have to do is to turn the occasional visitor into a racing fan. People might come with a party of friends from work or in a group of girls for a hen party. The challenge is to give them such a good time that they get the bug – that they want to come again and don’t need a special occasion to do so.”
Sally is from a horsy family in Kent, but wasn’t bred into the racing world. She did the same agricultural business management degree – with specialist interest in turf management – as York Racecourse’s celebrated chief executive and clerk of the course, William Derby.
“It was an exceptionally brave move by Beverley’s executive to employ me,” recalls Sally. “Yorkshire is a traditional county so I’ll be forever grateful to them for taking on a young southerner.
“When I took the job it was a step on the ladder, something I’d expected to move on from. But it would be very difficult to find a board of directors and chairman who let me kick on and get things done like they do here at Beverley.”
Sally, whose hobby is showing horses (watch out for her Oathill Take the Biscuit in the middleweight hunter class at the Great Yorkshire Show) is also now settled up here with her farmer boyfriend, Philip Megginson.
A typical race day starts at around 7am, continuing until after the last stragglers have gone home.
“It’s like a travelling circus moving in for the day,” she says. “I’ve the bookmakers, bars and catering to see to. Then there’s making sure the owners, trainers, stable staff and jockeys have got everything they need. Then there’s getting the races themselves off on time …”
Beverley was first past the post in coming up with a way of remembering the young Malton jockeys, Jamie Kyne and Jan Wilson, who tragically lost their lives in a fire.
“They had both raced here and we all felt we wanted to do something,” says Sally. The Kyne Wilson Scholarship is now in its second year.
Its aim is to support a Yorkshire-based apprentice jockey each year and includes sponsorship and support in a package worth around £4,000.
Julie Burke is this year’s recipient. She is employed by Thirsk-based racehorse trainer Kevin Ryan.
Sadly, it’s about 15 years since this correspondent last went racing at Beverley. It was an evening meeting and the whistles and nudges that went around at our hats have never been forgotten.
“Anything goes these days,” reassures Sally. “I think it’s part of Beverley’s charm that the ladies do feel they can get dressed up now; but also that somebody in casual clothes is made equally as welcome.”
www.beverley-racecourse.co.uk or call 01482 867488.