For the first time in the course’s history, a woman has been named Clerk Of Aintree Racecourse. That means that Sulekha Varma will also be the first woman to be in charge of the Grand National. Anybody has studiously followed the Grand National over the years may be familiar with Andrew Tulloch who has been at the helm of the course for nearly 25 years. He stood down after the Becher Chase on December 7th 2019 and Varma now succeeds him.
Along with becoming clerk of Aintree Racecourse, Sulekha Varma will also be the north-west head of Racing for Jockey Club Racecourses. And her CV is more than impressive. In 2007 she was a racing secretary for trainer Lucinda Russell and used to ride a few lots each day and occasionally lead up at the races as well. In 2009 began as a trainee clerk of the course with the Jockey Club at Haydock. She then went on to serve as clerk of the course at Nottingham, Market Rasen, Warwick and Huntingdon between 2010 and 2016. From there she became the racing manager and clerk of the course at Hamilton Park where she has been since.
She has also been a part of the Grand National team for the last nine years and knows it well. Speaking to Thoroughbred Racing earlier in the year she said: “The atmosphere is incredible and you cannot underestimate the planning and expertise that goes into making the event happen on the track, even before you start to consider the public areas.
“From the full-time Aintree team, to the numerous vets and doctors, the team of horse catchers, the paramedics – we all come together for three days, once a year, to make it happen.
“It’s challenging, hectic and exhilarating to be a part of, all at the same time.”
Sulekha Varma has been appointed as Clerk of the Course at Aintree Racecourse and North West Head of Racing for Jockey Club Racecourses.
— Aintree Racecourse (@AintreeRaces) December 4, 2019
On her new appointment last week Varma said: “I am honoured to be taking on the role of Clerk of the Course at Aintree Racecourse and North West Head of Racing for Jockey Club Racecourses.
“I will be sad to leave the fantastic team at Hamilton Park, but it is a hugely exciting opportunity to join the team who stage the UK’s most famous horserace and I am very much looking forward to getting started.
“While British Racing has faced and will face challenges, I hope that Aintree Racecourse will continue to be at the forefront of addressing many of those and showcasing our wonderful sport to an ever-wider audience.”
As the first woman to become Clerk of Aintree Racecourse, Varma will have a lot to contend with. The industry is slowly making headway when it comes to better participation for its female jockeys. Statistics show that female jockeys offer a better return on betting investments and in the 2019 Cheltenham Festival 14.3% of wins came from female riders. That was despite female jockeys receiving only 9.2% of the total number of rides available. While improving that statistic, even more, may not fall under Varma’s remit, her achievement is a welcome boost for young girls who would love a future in the industry.
For now, Sulekha Varma is focused on doing the best job for the 2020 Grand National and improving horse welfare.
She said: “Those of us who work in the sport know how well our horses are cared and catered for, but we need to do better in communicating that to the outside world.
“The world view is changing, and the use of animals in sport is under greater scrutiny than ever.
“We must both defend our existing record, and proactively promote our endeavours to care for, and protect, the animals who give us so much enjoyment.
“And that onus rests on every single participant – it only takes one individual to get it wrong to taint an entire sport.”