Isabella Leslie stands next to a camel in Dubai.
UofL equine business program alumna Isabella Leslie poses with a camel while training in Dubai. (Photo: Isabella Leslie's personal collection.)

As anticipation builds for the 150th Kentucky Derby, many will be searching for the perfect hat to wear to Churchill Downs. Isabella Leslie, a University of Louisville College of Business alumna, wears several.

Among them are: social media coordinator for JockeyCam and America’s Best Racing, U.S. assistant racing manager at AMO Racing, UofL Equine Industry Business Program graduate and all-female camel racing C1 Championship winner.

It’s easy to wonder what led Leslie from the Bluegrass State’s horse tracks to camel racing in Dubai. This week, she’s back in Louisville providing professional social media coverage of the Run for the Roses.  

UofL News caught up with the accomplished alumna to hear more about her journey and the influence of the university.  

UofL News: What initially sparked your interest in the Equine Industry Business Program at UofL? 

Leslie: I was intrigued by the program because there isn’t anything else like it. Being able to get a business degree while specializing in the equine field was something that really drew me in. I also liked that it was a very close-knit program and the class sizes were small. 

UofL News: Can you share with us the journey that led you from studying equine business at the University of Louisville to becoming involved in camel racing and eventually winning the C1 Championship in Dubai? 

Leslie: I worked in the Thoroughbred industry throughout college and took every opportunity to meet new people. Working for Thoroughbred racehorse trainer Mark Casse, I met a lot of connected people who had an influence on where I am today. In 2022, I went to Dubai for America’s Best Racing and it was then that I was first introduced to camel racing. I went out to film a segment on unique things to do in Dubai at the only camel riding school in the UAE, and that is where I met Linda Krockenberger, who co-founded the school and started the C1 Championships. We joked that it would be cool for me to one day compete in a race, and little did we know it would lead to this. Two years later the dream became a reality, and it turned out better than we both could have imagined. 

UofL News: Do you have any memorable experiences or lessons from your time as a student at the University of Louisville that have stuck with you since graduating? 

Leslie: I enjoyed meeting students with similar passions, even if we weren’t focused on the same discipline – we all shared the love for the horse. I really enjoyed my time on the UofL Saddleseat Team, in which we took home the national title. I have had a passion for horses since I can remember, but being surrounded by like-minded people on a daily basis certainly helped ignite my dream of working in the Thoroughbred industry. Terri Burch welcomed me into the program with open arms and for that, I’m forever grateful. 

UofL News: Have you ever participated in any Kentucky Derby events or festivities? Did the university’s proximity and ties to Churchill Downs help your career? 

Leslie: Yes, I was very lucky to work for Mark Casse when we had several horses competing in the Derby. War of Will in 2019 (who went on to win the Preakness Stakes), Enforceable in 2020 and Soup and Sandwich and Helium in 2021. 

I was at the track every morning before heading to school, so being nearby was ideal, especially when my alarm went off at 4:30 each morning. I had to have a nap every day in between classes, but the hard work definitely paid off. 

UofL News: What advice would you offer to prospective or current students in the Equine Industry Business Program at UofL who may be considering various career paths within the industry? 

Leslie: Take every opportunity. Even if you feel as though the event, person or whatever it may be might not benefit you, you never know who you’ll meet. I exhausted myself, but it was the best thing I could have done for my career. If I hadn’t jumped at every opportunity, I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. I never gave up, and I knew that going to college while working and traveling wouldn’t be easy, but I was lucky to have a support system that helped me follow my dreams.