Case Study – Sulekha Varma
“The best advice I would give someone looking to start their career in racing is get as much experience as you can and don’t be afraid to ask people for help”
Sulekha Varma is the Clerk of the Course at Aintree Racecourse. Here is her career story.
“I was always keen on horses and, thanks to pester power, was lucky enough to start riding from a fairly young age. My first memory of racing was being sat in a hotel room in Dublin at the age of 9 watching Minnehoma win the Grand National. It took me another 9 years to catch the racing bug and realise that there was the possibility of forging a career in the sport.
My first real foray into racing was at the age of 18, when I completed a work experience placement at Lucinda Russell’s yard. One ride up the gallops later and I was hooked.
A Classical Studies degree from Durham University led to a place on the British Horseracing Development Programme and a placement at the Racing Post with a view to becoming a journalist. The placement was a fantastic opportunity and I was on the news desk, writing stories, from day one. I finished my time there by writing a two-page feature celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Frankie Dettori’s Magnificent Seven, which was published in the Racing Post and in the Daily Mirror.
On completing my placement, I returned to Lucinda Russell’s yard as Racing Secretary, then moved to Berkshire to be Racing Manager at the Arabian Racing Organisation 2 years later. I joined The Jockey Club as a Trainee Clerk of the Course in October 2009. I qualified in March 2010 and went on to work at Market Rasen & Nottingham Racecourses and latterly Warwick and Huntingdon Racecourses. I joined the team at Hamilton Park Racecourse, as Racing Manager & Clerk of the Course, in January 2016.
The best best part of my day may sound slightly odd, but it is usually after the last race on a raceday. The high that you get when a day has gone well is unbeatable, especially when you have seen some talented horses and our many and varied customers have enjoyed themselves. More importantly, a day is only considered successful when every jockey and horse has come home safely.
The proudest moment of my career so far has to be clerking my first terrestrial TV raceday at Warwick Racecourse, which was a huge buzz. Warwick is a small racecourse and also one of very few in the country to get the opportunity to be the main site for the day’s production. Back then, the pictures were broadcast on Channel 4 and doing interviews for The Morning Line, having the mobile studio in the centre of the course and all the presenters and cameras on site was both exciting and nerve-wracking.
The advice I would give someone looking to start their career in racing is get as much experience as you can and don’t be afraid to ask people for help. A huge number of people helped me get to where I am today and racing is a very open and welcoming industry. In this day and age, so many industry professionals are openly available on social media or through email – it is easier than ever to ask people if you can meet them and talk to them about their job role. And there are so many varied job roles from marketing to sales to catering – anything really!”