Hi! I’m Isabella Leslie, and I have lived and breathed horses since the day I was born. Starting at 18 months old, I spent every Saturday having father-daughter dates at the barn. It was there that my love for horses began.
Currently, I am an Equine Business Student at the University of Louisville while working as the social media coordinator for America’s Best Racing and Mark Casse’s Churchill Downs string, where I pony and help out the barn. I also am a college ambassador for Keeneland and help out NBCSN on the side.
There is nothing I am more passionate about than horse racing, and I love introducing new fans to the sport. A love for horse racing leads to unforgettable memories and experiences, and I hope you get the opportunity to join in on the ride!
Isabella Leslie fell in love with horses at a young age while growing up in coastal Georgia. From the time she was 18 months old, days at the barn with her father became a regularity. This evolved into showing Saddlebreds when she was six, competing in shows until just two years ago.
During the summer of 2018, Isabella traveled to Kentucky to work for Saddlebred industry leader Marilyn Macfarland. There, she became friends with Hanna Salmon, who took her to the racetrack on Isabella’s day off. Immediately, the racing industry captured Isabella’s heart.
“I fell in love with it and decided that’s what I was meant to do,” Isabella said. “I never thought I would leave the Saddlebred world, but I truly fell in love with racing.”
Isabella chose to attend the University of Louisville to ride on their saddle seat team, but ultimately she faced the decision to dedicate her time. That’s when she realized that, for her, racing came first.
“I’ve never looked back,” she said.
While studying equine business at UofL, Isabella has dived headfirst into the Thoroughbred industry. Her roles within the industry include stints with Casse Racing, where she wears many hats from hot walking to ponying, and NBC Sports, where she helps with race day coverage and serves as the stage manager for Lafitt Pincay. Combining these experiences and her studies, Isabella aspires to one day have a career in bloodstock.
“I love watching a horse grow—from the sales to the track, to race day, and to hopefully their first win,” Isabella said. “I also love the international side of bloodstock, and all the people I have met, along with the places racing in general, has taken me.”
As a member of Nexus, Isabella is passionate about getting young people involved in the Thoroughbred industry. In her own experience, all it took to fall in love with the sport was a visit to the backside—a method she believes could be the key in helping others develop a passion for the sport.
“I think the first step in getting people our age into the industry is bringing them to the track,” Isabella said. “Experiencing the races and watching the horses is such an adrenaline rush. I also think bringing people onto the backside and letting them see how well cared for and loved these horses are important. That’s what made me fall in love with the sport in the first place, seeing how much everyone adores the horses and how the horses really enjoy racing.”
To Isabella, getting involved in racing is simpler than some may realize.
“One of the most common things I hear is that it’s so hard to get into the industry,” she said. “From experience with other sides of the horse business, I think racing is the exact opposite. All it takes is one conversation with the right person and drive and passion for the sport. Coming out to the track and meeting people is where it starts.”
Isabella’s hope that others will fall head over heels for racing and its horses like she has is a love that can lead to unforgettable experiences within the industry.
“There is no feeling as great as winning a big race,” Isabella said. “Knowing all the hard work that goes behind preparing the horse and what it takes for everything to fall into place makes the sport so addicting. But what I love even more than that are the horses. I’m so passionate about the racing industry, and I strive to share how special it is with everyone while making a positive difference along the way.”