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Many of us are veterans of the Rowley Mile and July courses but the town has a great deal more to offer than just racing upon its venerable turf. If immersion in the equine world is your thing, there is no finer place to tip yourself in than Newmarket; a self-contained idyll of everything horse, situated in the far reaches of Cambridgeshire as the flat lands give way to the shapely folds of the beautiful west Suffolk countryside. For racing folk everywhere, the place just bubbles with goodness.
The chalk downland of Newmarket Heath is an exceptional piece of ground upon which to prepare and train horses. Local lore has it that Boadicea (Boudica), warrior Queen of the Iceni, had her camp at nearby Exning and trained her horses and chariots there upon the ancient heath. Racing at Newmarket has been dated as far back as 1174, the earliest known racing venue of the modern era.
King James I greatly increased the popularity of racing in Newmarket, and King Charles I followed this by inaugurating the first cup race in 1634. An association which gathered pace during the Restoration of 1660, and the reign of King Charles II, who became passionately involved with the sport and the last English monarch to ride a race winner at Newmarket. The bushes on the Rowley Mile mark his favourite position for spectating across the course he devised for late summer and spring
My favourite time to visit the Rowley Mile is in October on Champions Day, the highest class single day’s flat racing in Europe. This is a terrific meeting with an excellent blend of races, made all the better by manageable attendance levels. Unlike the Guineas meet, it remains relatively simple to achieve a good position at the paddock and for the race itself – so difficult around the country at other times.
So much for the racing, but what of the town itself?
The National Stud
AWhere better to begin than with a tour of the National Stud, located beside the famous statue of Hyperion near the July Course. From the moment the automatic gates swing open it’s clear you’re in for a civilised experience – places are reserved by phone or email and you simply roll up and pay on arrival. Here, thanks to Mr Phil Cunningham, we can see new sire Cockney Rebel together with a mixed roster that includes Bahamian Bounty and Silver Patriarch. Then there are the paddocks with the broodmares and young foals, the stallion men, covering barn, foaling unit, Mill Reefs’ statue and grave, plus the odd celebrity guest: Grand National winner Amberleigh House has cheerfully greeted visitors here for several seasons.
At the National Stud they take little prompting to confide that Newmarket Hospital has no A&E facility – for that, you will need to visit Cambridge. On the other hand, if any one of the residents of the National Stud requires emergency care, a vet can be summoned on site within 8 minutes, 24/7. This, Sir, is the town of the horse.
Since Herod, Matchem and Eclipse established their reputations here, racing has developed from a pastime for the few to a massive global industry. Forty generations on from the founding fathers of the breed, the town’s unique status is preserved and it’s commitment to the sport more vigorous than ever:
53 stud farms
2 horse ambulances
Around 2,500 horses in training with 66 trainers
An equine hospital and world class research facilities
4,500 acres of ground operated by Jockey Club Estates
9,000 acres of stud lands
2 racecourses and the longest turf straight in racing
The world’s largest and oldest expanse of continuously tended grassland
60 miles of gallops of every description
Over 50 miles of ‘horsewalks’ linking stables and gallops
Trigger operated lights, sited at rider height, at every horsewalk road crossing
On average 2 work riders are fatally injured each year upon the gallops
Visiting the Gallops
The nature of a first encounter with Newmarket is determined to a large extent by the season. In winter an eerie calm permeates the town, but arrive on a spring morning and something of its true purpose is revealed. Hundreds of racehorses emerge from stables tucked away in every corner and promptly take over; on the roads, weaving in and out of cars and, despite the horsewalks, jogging along paths vacated by pedestrians.
Whatever the day the best vantage point lies from the elevated position of the most famous gallop in racing, Warren Hill, situated close to the centre of town alongside the Moulton Road. The last time I was there leaning on the rail I glanced across to find one HRA Cecil had pitched up awaiting the arrival of owners. Here you will find yourself among fellow gallop watchers, owners and trainers (often saddled on the most unlikely looking hacks), as a proportion of the finest thoroughbreds in the UK toil up the hill and back around just a few yards from the boundary rail which marks the limit of public access prior to 1pm.
Take the Bury Road, down to the Limekilns gallop ‘Bury side’ or across town to Newmarket Heath ‘Racecourse side’ and the story is the same, mile upon mile of carefully tended gallop. It is universally easy to park up and to carefully spectate on the sidelines, ideally armed with a pair of 10×50 binoculars. The Godolphin riders and staff are easily identified by the royal blue ‘Emirates’ jackets and, whatever your view of their position within the sport, the image of an immaculate Godolphin string turned out on a crisp Newmarket morning is one of the most stirring sights in racing.
In the centre of town near the clock tower and the BP Station, is located ‘The Severals’ where numerous strings converge to circle around and limber up before crossing the Bury road to ascend Warren Hill.
Another way to approach Newmarket is to sign on for a guided tour, which in most cases includes the benefit of a yard or stud visit, and entry to the National Horseracing Museum and/or National Stud. In all cases advance booking is essential:
The Newmarket Experience
Their calendar of events in 2008 included special tours of Sir Michael Stout’s Freemason Yard and Luca Cumani’s Bedford House Stables. They also organise a number of private tours of Sheikh Mohammad’s Dalham Hall Stud, the worldwide centre of the Darley bloodstock business, and all-day racing tours which culminate in a visit to Newmarket races.
Provide race day tours of the Rowley Mile course, with options to go behind the scenes and to be guided by ‘a racing legend’.
Offer comprehensive tour packages for groups of 20 or more, or bespoke VIP packages for small groups of up to 6, that in addition to the above can encompass the equine hospital, Tattersalls sales paddocks, Jockey Club and the British Racing School.
Operated by trainer Julia Fielden’s husband John, from their yard office at Exning near Newmarket. Small informal groups of up to 6 people take in a yard tour, the Newmarket gallops, British Racing School and the National Stud.
The Jockey Club
Although the Jockey Club has now decamped once more to London, two and a half centuries of equestrian tradition live on in this most impressive building located at The Jockey Club Rooms, 101 High Street. From the moment you enter the elegant Georgian hall you are transported to an era of understated luxury and aristocratic privilege. With antiques and substantial works of equine art in every room by Stubbs, Herring and Munning a visit here leaves an indelible impression. Tours are arranged for groups of 20 or more. High standard overnight accommodation is also available, together with options for dinner and breakfast.
I am constantly surprised by how few race-goers take the opportunity to visit Tattersalls on sale days. It’s free and while not officially encouraged, provided you don’t make a nuisance of yourself, no one is going to complain if you inhabit the auction room a bit even if you don’t actually intend to bid for anything. There are two bars and a canteen style dining room where, in addition to the ring, you will rub shoulders with a who’s who of racing. Many of the most well-known trainers in the business smiling earnestly (a more cynical fellow might say nervously) at their wealthy patrons over brunch.
Tattersalls Yearling Book 1 is still the world’s premier bloodstock auction. Auctions are also deliberately timed to coincide with Newmarket race meetings – someone has clearly thought about this. Tattersalls’ Park Paddocks is located right in the centre of town, close to the railway station.
West Suffolk and the Stud Lands
If you are not familiar with Suffolk, I urge you not to leave Newmarket without taking a drive into the beautiful rolling stud lands that project south-eastwards from Newmarket along Duchess Drive – the home of Dalham Hall and Chevely Park Studs. On one side of the road now reside: New Approach, Halling and Manduro and on the other Pivotal, Medician and Dutch Art. Carry on into Saxon Street; go left along Cheveley Road and forwards into Saxon Street Road and you will find Juddmont Farms Banstead Manor Stud – their European operation now standing among others: Oasis Dream and Zamindar.
Nearby the village of Dalham hosts the charming Affleck Arms Pub, frequented I hear by none other than the ever-interesting Mr John Egan. Follow your nose further south east and the glories of the Suffolk/Essex borders await, through ancient medieval towns and quintessential English countryside. For those old enough to remember this is ‘Lovejoy’ country, Long Melford and the peerless Lavenham. An England of timber frames and thatched roofs, of lofty spires and spreading chestnut trees; picture perfect villages born of the most prosperous region of medieval England.
This then is Newmarket. A town that fields, on average, just under one third of all British race winners in a season, with many of these concentrated in the better quality races. Newmarket in the morning is a surreal place, buzzing with the activities of hundreds of centaur-like figures, nonchalant but serious, as though unaware of the danger and absurdity of answering wealthy men’s dreams, by teaching racehorses to run faster. A serene equine world that lives happily alongside carefully attired Arabian gentlemen in Barbour and flat caps, dimly aware of the wider commercial world, but for many only insofar as it is reported in the Racing Post.
And you see, I just love it to bits.