How did your appointment as an independent director at the British Horseracing Board come about?
I am in a sense a total newcomer and was approached about the job completely out of the blue. I was enthralled by racing since childhood, and during the four years that I was at Cambridge, I spent a huge amount of time up at Newmarket. I also had a couple of vet student friends who would sit up with the mares at stud when they were due to foal, so I would join them, then go off to my lectures in the morning, and finish off the day with an afternoon’s racing.
There are two horses that I remember particularly well, Royal Palace and St Paulli Girl. Even though she lost the Oaks, she did me proud and subsidised my university grant in my second year.
How did your interest in racing develop after you left Cambridge and embarked on your career in the legal profession?
When I started at the bar, I was given a horse. It was a very slow horse, admittedly, and obviously it was surplus to requirements. It was fun though, even if it never even came placed. It ran a few times, and I remember well trying to get my clerk to arrange court appointments so that they tied in with race meetings. Unfortunately clerks don’t always have the best grasp of geography…
Did this encourage you to have a succession of horses in training?
I never owned another horse since then and my passion was limited to the thrill of spectatorship. My husband [Sir Timothy Cassell] does however now have a share in a three-year-old maiden filly, Nukhbah. She tries hard, and in fact she has been placed on every outing so far.
And as a brilliant horsewoman yourself, were you ever tempted to get into the saddle as a jockey?
I did once ride out on the gallops. I just cantered up the gallops, riding short, and I honestly thought that it would be less painful to bail out than to have to go any further. When I did eventually dismount, my legs buckled completely.
Obviously your name is famous in hunting circles, and you hunt a great deal both with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, and in Buckinghamshire. What are your feelings about the relationship between hunting and racing?
I don’t think that anybody in racing circles, particularly in National Hunt racing circles, is under any illusions regarding the fact that if hunting goes, it will have a huge impact. Firstly, there is the question of point-to-points. In my opinion, very few point-to-points would run at a profit, because there wouldn’t be any hunt volunteers to help out.
What about the knock-on effect that a ban on hunting with hounds would have on the racing industry as a whole?
Horses that are bred for racing, both flat and jump-racing, which then don’t make the grade, almost invariably end up on the hunting field. More importantly though, there is the question of the racing ladder. Many people start off their involvement in point-to-pointing, which is tied up in the hunting tradition. Then they progress to hunter-chasing and eventually to National Hunt racing.
What will your role on the BHB board involve, and what do you hope to bring to the racing industry?
Well I have very little knowledge of the politics of racing, but I have huge experience of the pleasure that racing can bring. I am sure that I will have to get to grips with some of the most significant problems facing racing, but I think that an objective view could be of tremendous value. Most of all, I hope to be able to be an ambassador for racing at racecourse, which is what I would enjoy doing most.