Zoe Smith

‘I think it’s a buzz and there’s a real shot of adrenaline throughout the whole experience’

Part 2 of my interview with Sulekha. Here we spoke about the importance of Rachael Blackmore & other female faces leading the way in this sport and how it can & will be vital for young females to aspire too. Plus ever wondered what happens to the Grand National fences once racing is over? I find out what they do and Sulekha gives some sound advice for anyone looking to start a new career.

Zoe: In terms of the Grand National, this year means it will be the first time a Grand National has been run by a female Clerk of the Course just a few weeks after Rachael Blackmore was crowned the Top Jockey at the Cheltenham Festival. How important do you think these milestones are for young females who want to have a career within racing?

Sulekha: I think it’s really important! Someone like Rachael goes to show what hard work can achieve. There are so many great female jockeys out there and I think it’s important they’re now getting the recognition they deserve. We’ve got Hollie Doyle, Bryony Frost and there were trail blazers like Hayley Turner who was really the first female jockey to be noticed. We’ve also Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry out in Ireland as well who came over and did extremely well at Cheltenham and Aintree on top of that. Then within racing administration, we now have a female Chief Executive of the BHA now which is amazing. We’ve got ladies at the top of the game and I think it’s important that young people who come into the sport see that those opportunities now do exist. I think racing as an employer is very different to where it was 15 to 20 years ago in that you’re very much recognised for your skills and ability.

Zoe: The Aintree Grand National Festival, it’s a huge 3 days, but do you actually get to enjoy any of it or is it all focused on making sure it goes okay?

Sulekha: I don’t think enjoy is the word, I think it’s a buzz and there’s a real shot of adrenaline throughout the whole experience. This will actually be my 10th Grand National at Aintree as I’ve helped the team for the last 10 years, so I’ve been a part of it for a long long time and it is a real buzz. But there is some sense of both relief and pride once it’s over because it’s a very long lead up and a lot of long hours and hard work for everybody. But when you see it all come together and pay off it’s very much worthwhile.

Zoe: With the Grand National fences, what happens to them after the Grand National is over?

Sulekha: The core of the fence, the frame and the plastic tubs, birch and base which forms the inside of the fence, that stays out all year round, but the spruce that goes over the top which is what you actually see and what they jump, it only has a short life span because from the moment it’s cut, it’s cut from sustainable forest in the Lake District and once that’s cut it immediately starting to die just like if you cut a flower or a branch or any tree. So once the Grand National is done, we strip all the fences, and the wood is chipped or put aside for compost.

Zoe: What would you say is the best part of your job and why do you enjoy it so much?

Sulekha: I actually make people laugh when I say this, but it’s when a race day is done. It’s a sense of pride you get at the end of racing when it all goes well and especially when you’ve seen good quality racing and that’s not just at Aintree Festival. I’m joint Clerk of the Course at Carlisle Racecourse as well so the quality of racing there is not the same but you still get that same sense of pride at the end of the day for a job well done and I think that is job satisfaction in any role really.

Zoe: What would you say is your favourite day in racing that you’ve either worked or attended?

Sulekha: Probably the day One For Arthur won the Grand National because from working with Lucinda Russell as a youngster and a lot of my friends were still involved in the yard at that time. So it was really special to see people you knew and people who worked so hard having that kind of level of achievement and success. So that was really great, and I was so happy for them and I still am now, I think what they achieved with One For Arthur and what he achieved was superb.

Zoe: Finally, what is your best piece of advice for a young person who wants to follow a career in racing?

Sulekha: I would suggest learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask people for help and I would also say don’t be disheartened if your first job isn’t your dream job. Be prepared to work your way up the ladder, job number one might not be exactly what you want but it might put you on the right path to where you want to be.

You can find out more from me here on Careers in Racing and on my main site here. Look out for more from me over the Summer months on Careers in Racing.

(Zoe Smith April 2021)