IF, as Emma White jokes, racing is one big travelling circus, moving their show from town to town, then there’s a new ringmaster at Sedgefield.
A few weeks into her job as the track’s new General Manager after a jump from Go Racing In Yorkshire and White is excited at the challenge ahead: “My ambition is to make it the best little National Hunt track in the country, and I will do it.’’
It’s some statement of intent, but her enthusiasm is infectious. After today’s meeting at County Durham’s only racecourse, it’s the main one next: December 26. That means a biggest attendance of the year, a packed card, a sea of cheer and the little matter of Christmas Day in the way.
“Boxing Day is huge for us. In my job interview they asked how I would find working on Boxing Day – but I’ve worked for four years at Wetherby on Boxing Day, although that wasn’t in charge, not in control and this is different and I’m excited about it.
“It will be a normal Christmas Day for me – unless there is an issue. We will have everything ready to go in advance.
“All hands on deck, biggest crowd of the year, we have music, hospitality, a marquee serving Indian food which is selling really well – spice instead of turkey and veg. We have a big covered area for poor weather, but it will be beautiful…. A little morning frost which will burn off for racing.’’
She’s moved to Sedgefield, the latest position in a varied career, after a successful stint with Go Racing In Yorkshire. The summer festival became a week-long event in itself, helping promote the courses in the county and raising attendances and profile in the process.
“I did four years with Go Racing In Yorkshire and really achieved a lot – we became renowned for promoting Yorkshire racing,’’ she reflected.
“I was at the point where I was thinking – OK I’ve done that, what now. I can’t sit back on my laurels, I will never do that.’’
White started out at British Steel in Redcar, one of the first female shift managers in the UK, always with a keen interest in horses, show jumping and eventing.
When a family move to Cheltenham arrived, she started importing horses from Holland, improving and selling them on.
Next stop was, it’s fair to say, a memorable career step.
She recalled: “The British Equestrian Federation approached me to be a regional manager and did a full Olympic circle up to London 2012. That was amazing.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be involved and seeing our teams do so well helped! I now live about 50 yards from Nicola Wilson, so we see each other all the time!
“That was done, the Olympics, what’s next? Push the legacy and help inspire? Move on.’’
Following a spell in control of her own business consultancy, the lure of the track pulled her back to racing.
“I worked so closely with the racecourses with Go Racing In Yorkshire, but then felt I wanted my own. Sedgefield came up, it’s close to home, it’s a great track.
“It was too good an opportunity and at interview I knew a lot of the people involved. And here we are.
“It’s a big responsibility. Sedgefield is what it is – a small National Hunt racecourse, with the best grass roots racing in my opinion. We are well supported by trainers both local and national and we get a lot of Irish trainers over too. Jockeys like the track, trainers like the track.’’
There’s a healthy seven-race card at the course today – starting at 12.10 and White is happy with the outlook in County Durham.
She admitted: “The North-East racing world is very strong. I wish we had more Northern jumps trainers, but Rebecca Menzies is there with her potential. There’s lots of good owners – Phil Martin owns Definitely Red, one of the best in the country and Brian Ellison is a big supporter of Sedgefield.
“I know where I want this place to be and I won’t leave until it is.
“Our hospitality is almost sold out every raceday, we do a lot of things really well and in the hospitality market we are in amongst some real competition not far away.
“You can’t ease up, and it’s not all about racing, there has to be more than that. Party night, raceday events – even the car boot sale is one of the biggest in the UK, bonkers ! But it attracts people and they may come racing on the back of it.’’
She added: “I am so lucky here with such an experienced team around me – they have been brilliant. All have been so welcoming and it’s made it an easy transition. I still feel like I have so much to learn and it’s coming along.
“I really am so excited about the opportunities here. I used to come here and watch. It was impossible to go and watch a meeting in Yorkshire as it was always “Oh Emma, can you do this?” – it was non-stop! So I would nick off and go and watch racing outside my area.
“Now I can go to York and enjoy the day in the summer and look forward to it.
“Knowing the jockeys, trainers, stewards is a massive help for me. It’s one crazy travelling circus so they all know me already, I already have that credibility, they know I do what I say and if there’s a problem I will deal with it.
“I think a few jockeys are happy to see me here as they trust me. Brian Ellison was delighted – he feels his favourite track is in good hands, which is really pleasing for me.
“And all the stewards know me, so they don’t have to ease me in and I have all the contacts to help with the transition – it’s all made it a little bit easier for everyone.’’