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A Visitors Guide to Newmarket
Many of us are veterans of the Rowley Mile and July, but the city has a lot more to offer than racing on its venerable turf. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the world of horses, there’s no better place to lean than Newmarket; a self-contained all-horse idyll set in the remote reaches of Cambridgeshire, where the flat lands give way to the sculpted folds of the beautiful west Suffolk countryside. For racing people everywhere, the place is just bubbling with goodness.
The chalk bedrock of Newmarket Heath is an exceptional piece of land on which to prepare and train horses. Local tradition says that Boadicea (Boudica), the warrior queen of the Iceni, had her camp at nearby Exning and trained her horses and chariots there on the ancient heath. Racing at Newmarket dates back to 1174, making it the oldest known racecourse in the modern era.
King James I greatly increased the popularity of horse racing at Newmarket and King Charles I followed this up by starting the first cup race in 1634. The association which gained momentum during the Restoration in 1660 and the reign of King Charles II who was passionately involved with the sport and the last English monarch to win a race at Newmarket. The bushes on the Rowley Mile mark his favorite viewing position across the course, which he devised for late summer and spring.
My favorite is to visit the Rowley Mile in October on Masters Day, the highest class one-day flat race in Europe. This is a great meet with an excellent mix of races made even better by the manageable attendance levels. Unlike the Guineas meetings, it remains relatively easy to get a good position in the paddock and for the race itself – otherwise so difficult across the country.
So much for racing, but what about the city itself?
Where better to start than with a tour of the National Stud, located next to the famous statue of Hyperion near the July Course. From the moment the automatic gates open, it’s clear you’re in for a civilized experience – seats are reserved by phone or email and you simply roll up and pay on arrival. Here, thanks to Mr. Phil Cunningham, we can see the new sire Cockney Rebel alongside a mixed list that includes Bahamian Bounty and Silver Patriarch. Then there are the broodmare and foal paddocks, the stallions, the covering barn, the foals, the Mill Reefs statue and grave, plus a special celebrity guest: Grand National winner Amberleigh House has been cheering visitors here for several seasons.
There’s little incentive at the National Stud to admit that Newmarket Hospital doesn’t have A&E facilities – you’ll have to visit Cambridge for that. On the other hand, if any of the National Stud’s residents require urgent care, a veterinarian can be called to the scene within 8 minutes, 24/7. This, sir, is horse town.
Facts about Newmarket
Since Herod, Matchem and Eclipse built their reputations here, racing has evolved from a pastime for the handful into a massive global industry. Forty generations from the breed’s founding fathers, the city’s unique status is preserved and its commitment to the sport is stronger than ever:
53 stud farms
2 horse ambulances
Around 2500 horses in training with 66 trainers
World-class equine hospital and research facilities
4,500 acres of land operated by Jockey Club Estates
9,000 acres of stud farms
2 race tracks and the longest race track
The largest and oldest area of permanently maintained grassland in the world
60 miles of gallops of all kinds
Over 50 miles of “horse walks” connecting stables and gallops
Trigger operated lights, positioned at rider height, at each pedestrian crossing
On average, 2 work riders are fatally injured each year while galloping
A visit to Gallops
The nature of the first encounter with Newmarket is largely determined by the season. In winter, an eerie calm pervades the city, but come spring morning, something of its true purpose is revealed. Hundreds of racehorses emerge from stables tucked in every corner and immediately take charge; on the roads, weaving in and out of cars and, despite walking on horseback, running along paths deserted by pedestrians.
Regardless of the day, the best vantage point lies from the elevated position of Warren Hill’s most famous racecourse, located close to the city center along Moulton Road. The last time I was there leaning against the railing I looked over and found one HRA that Cecil had set up waiting for the owners to arrive. Here you’ll find yourself amongst other gallop watchers, owners and trainers (often saddled on the unlikeliest-looking hacks) as some of the UK’s best thoroughbreds toil uphill and back just meters from the boundary rail that marks the 1pm public access limit.
Take Bury Road, down to Limekilns gallop ‘Bury side’ or across town to Newmarket Heath ‘Racecourse side’ and the story is the same, mile after mile of carefully maintained gallop. It’s generally easy to park and keep a close eye on the sides, ideally armed with 10×50 binoculars. Godolphin riders and staff are easily identified by their royal blue ‘Emirates’ jackets and whatever your view of their standing in the sport, the image of the immaculate Godolphin line-up on a crisp Newmarket morning is one of the most exciting sights in the world. racing.
In the town center near the clock tower and BP station is ‘The Several’ where numerous strings converge to circle and swing before crossing Bury Road to ascend Warren Hill.
Another way to get to Newmarket is to sign up for a guided tour, which in most cases includes a visit to the yard or stud and entry to the National Horseracing Museum and/or National Stud. Advance booking is required in all cases:
The Newmarket experience
Their calendar of events in 2008 included special tours of Sir Michael Stout’s Freemason Yard and Lucy Cumani’s Bedford House Stables. They also run a range of private tours of Sheikh Mohammad’s Dalham Hall Stud, the global center of the Darley blood trade, and full day racing trips culminating in a visit to the Newmarket races.
Take daily tours of the Rowley Mile with the opportunity to see behind the scenes and be guided by a ‘racing legend’.
Connection to Newmarket
Offer comprehensive tour packages for groups of 20 or more or bespoke VIP packages for small groups of up to 6 people which may include the Horse Hospital, Tattersalls saleyards, Jockey Club and British Racing School in addition to the above.
It is run by trainer Julie Fielden’s husband John from their back office in Exning, near Newmarket. Small informal groups of up to 6 people will tour the yard, Newmarket Gallop, British Racing School and National Stud.
Although the Jockey Club has now re-located to London, two and a half centuries of equestrian tradition lives on in this most impressive building at The Jockey Club Rooms, 101 High Street. From the moment you enter the elegant Georgian hall, you will be transported to an era of understated luxury and aristocratic privilege. With antiques and significant works of equine art in every room by Stubbs, Herring and Munning, a visit here will leave an indelible impression. Tours are organized for groups of 20 or more. Superior overnight accommodation is also available, along with the option of dinner and breakfast.
I am constantly amazed at how few racegoers take the opportunity to visit Tattersalls on sale days. It’s free and while it’s not officially supported, as long as you don’t go to any trouble, no one will complain if you populate the auction room for a bit, even if you don’t actually intend to bid on anything. There are two bars and a canteen-style dining room where, in addition to the ring, you can compete in who’s who races. Many of the industry’s best-known trainers smile earnestly (a more cynical person might say nervously) at their wealthy patrons during brunch.
Tattersalls Yearling Book 1 is still the world’s leading yearling auction. The auctions are also deliberately timed to coincide with the Newmarket horse racing meetings – someone has clearly thought of that. Tattersalls’ Park Paddocks is located right in the center of town, close to the train station.
West Suffolk and Stud Lands
If you don’t know Suffolk, I urge you not to leave Newmarket without going to the beautiful country stud farms that jut out south-east of Newmarket along Duchess Drive – home to Dalham Hall and Chevely Park Studs. One side of the road now houses: New Approach, Halling and Manduro and on the other Pivotal, Medician and Dutch Art. Continue to Saxon Street; go left on Cheveley Road and forward into Saxon Street Road and you will find Juddmont Farms Banstead Manor Stud – their European operation which now stands amongst others: Oasis Dream and Zamindar.
Near the village of Dalham is the charming Affleck Arms Pub, frequented by none other than the ever-interesting Mr John Egan. Follow your nose further south-east and the glory of the Suffolk/Essex border awaits, past ancient medieval towns and the quintessential English countryside. For those old enough to remember it is the land of “Lovejoy”, Long Melford and the unique Lavenham. England of timber frames and thatched roofs, tall towers and sprawling chestnut trees; a picture perfect village born from the most prosperous area of medieval England.
Then it’s Newmarket. A city that on average fields just under a third of all British race winners in a season, with many of them concentrated in higher quality races. Newmarket in the morning is a surreal place, buzzing with the activity of hundreds of centaur-like figures, nonchalant but serious, as if oblivious to the danger and absurdity of fulfilling rich men’s dreams by teaching racehorses to run faster. A peaceful horse world that lives happily alongside carefully dressed Arab gentlemen in Barbours and flat caps, dimly aware of the wider commercial world, but for many only as far as the Racing Post reports.
And you see, I love it to pieces.
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