New Hereford Racecourse general manager Camilla Esling is hoping regulars at the place won’t notice too many changes following her appointment – apart from maybe a few more faces.
Camilla – who recently stepped into the shoes vacated by Rebecca Davies – has bold plans to bring a fresh audience to racing at the picturesque countryside venue.
But that won’t be at the expense of ignoring traditional racegoers who have returned in numbers to the course since its re-opening in 2016.
Camilla – a former amateur eventer who has spent six years as Hereford’s operations executive and has also been working at Worcester Racecourse – wants to put her stamp on the old place, but that will involve building on Hereford’s strengths rather than dismantling them.
“We're a classic country race course and we want to provide the same great experience for the seasoned racegoer as for someone who is completely new to racing,” says the new GM.
“We want them both to feel they can come here and get something very rewarding for them, personally.
“We are lucky because Hereford is such a good viewing course and it's also compact. You can come in and everything is there in front of you with not far to get to anything.
“As soon as you come in, the parade ring is straight in front of you. So, it really does feel like the horses are at the centre of what we do.
“And then it’s not just the view of racing on the track, we’ve got these wonderful views towards Hereford Cathedral and the Black Mountains. I do get regular feedback from people who are very pleasantly surprised, they didn't know this green space still exists in the middle of Hereford.”
A pleasing right-handed squarish course with a 300-yard run-in, Hereford offers jump racing from October to April.
The re-opening of the course six years ago was stymied somewhat when the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, but over the last couple of years improved facilities have started to yield reward.
But for those in charge, the challenges are still apparent – finding ways to be attractive in a difficult economic climate and sustainable throughout the whole 12 months.
“We were hitting our stride again when Covid knocked everyone back and in a sense there was a period afterwards of getting to know our audience again,” says Camilla.
“All businesses have also had to work hard to regain people’s trust and then on top of that there has been the cost of living crisis. People are spending their money on something they really value, rather than something a bit more frivolous.
“So, we have worked really hard – and we’ll continue to do this – to put on race days that suit the avid racegoer, but also appeal to new audiences.
“The feature race days are good ways of bringing in new people, such as our Christmas Jumper Raceday, and then we’ve got two very good fixtures coming up – our Ladies Day on March 11 and our Family Fun Day to end the season on April 6.”
On top of the racing, there is also the quest to bring in newcomers for the summer events and conferencing, such a food festivals, a Hereford Pride event in June and other corporate days held at the course.
Luckily, says Camilla, she can lean on the support of a small but dedicated team to ensure both the racing and non-racing days are a success.
“We’ve got a young team but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have the knowledge and experience of some older people.
“We try and be hands-on and get involved in all aspects, but we are also trying to be known more locally and get our personality out there a bit more through social media. That will all help raise the profile as well as those direct, hands-on contacts with people.”
By local, the definition is certainly not restricted to the town of Hereford. It’s much more a regional outlook across the whole county, the borders and into South Wales.
But there’s one thing that will always go with being a general manager of a racecourse – older managers and newer ones through good times and bad.
“I’m now responsible for every little detail and ensuring that things have been thought through,” says Camilla, with a smile.
“I was introduced to one trainer with the words, ‘This is Camilla. She’s the new general manager, so she’s the one you should complain to, now!”
At least she’s been warned.