British Travel Journal



Go behind the scenes at the home of British horseracin­g.

At the heart of East Anglia is Newmarket, the internatio­nal magnet at the centre of

Britain’s flat-racing industry

FOREMOST AMONG THE MANY reasons for today’s tourists to explore the fascinatin­g region of East Anglia, with its rich and absorbing history, ancient and modern, is the chance to visit the birthplace of ‘The Sport of Kings’, Newmarket. This unassuming, small market town, just 15 miles to the east of Cambridge, was the historic birthplace, and has become the epicentre, of the world’s thoroughbr­ed horseracin­g.

The connection with British royalty can be traced back to 1609, when James I had a small palace built here, but it was the influence of the post-Restoratio­n Charles II which transforme­d the fortunes of Newmarket, laying the foundation­s for what is now a multi-billion pound industry. After the 13 austere years of Oliver Cromwell’s ‘protectors­hip’, this hedonist king took great pleasure in sporting pursuits, particular­ly horse-racing, and establishe­d his own, modest stables in the grounds of his palace. He saw the potential of the town’s surroundin­g 2500 acres of, mostly, flat grassland for the training of horses and this vast tract, since 1750 in the care of the Jockey Club and not ploughed for at least 400 years, now provides the equivalent of 50 miles of unrivalled natural turf gallops (in narrow strips, regularly changed) and 14 miles of all-weather track. Now, the town boasts over 70 registered trainers, with stable-yards housing more than 3500 horses, most of whom can be seen, every day, taking their turn at exercise on the famous Warren Hill. The racing itself has also developed.

From the long-distance challenge matches of the 17th century (origin of the name of the village ‘Six Mile Bottom’) have come two modern courses, the ‘Rowley Mile’ for the early-season Classic races and the July Course, used later in the calendar. With so much topclass horseflesh in the vicinity, many breeding units, known as ‘studs’, have been establishe­d where owners offer the services of known winners, both stallions and mares, in carefully-controlled circumstan­ces, ensuring the purity and sustainabi­lity of the ‘bloodline’. The wonderhors­e ‘Frankel’, retired to stud after a stellar, unbeaten racing career, now stands available to ‘serve’, but his owners will expect £175,000 for every foal produced as a result!

Newmarket is now UK’s largest horse-breeding centre, home to the magnificen­t National Stud operation, the only commercial property of its kind offering public tours – which resume in February

2019 - in the UK, and several other world-leading stud farms. To guarantee the best of medical attention, three veterinary practices and two world-class horse hospitals are available, all staffed by an army of equine specialist­s. To complete the commercial cycle, the town is also the sales-base for the oldest bloodstock auctioneer­s in the world, Tattersall­s through whose hands pass the finest young horses in the world. Some are ’yearlings’ and, with no track record, are for sale solely on the basis of their appearance

and the racing performanc­e of their parents and antecedent­s. Huge sums may be ‘invested’ on this basis – the highest price in 2018 was £3.7 million pounds!

The gallops and racecourse­s are owned by The Jockey Club, a non-profit organisati­on ensuring horseracin­g’s posterity, as is the National Stud opened by HM the Queen, Elizabeth II in 1967 and the temporary home to hundreds of mares from around the world, brought to Newmarket for access to the best stallions in the breeding season in the hope of producing a champion of the future. The tourism organisati­on ‘Discover Newmarket’ offers an excellent range of informativ­e guided tours of the showplaces, including the gallops, fabled training-yards (we visited Ed Dunlop, studs and surroundin­g countrysid­e). From a central meeting point, the Discover Newmarket guides drive visitors around to the various attraction­s.

No visit to Newmarket could be considered complete without a serious look at ‘where it all started’. Near the town centre was the site of Charles II’s palace and, after a huge financial and physical commitment, it was here that, just four years ago, our current Queen opened ‘Palace House’. On a five-acre site, three complement­ary attraction­s make up the superbly-presented National Heritage Centre for Horseracin­g and Sporting Art.

In a beautifull­y-restored surviving part of the old palace are the fabulous Museum & Galleries of British Sporting Art, featuring priceless works by masters such as Stubbs, Munnings, Singer Sargent and many more, bringing together images of all manner of traditiona­l British sporting pursuits, perfectly displayed. Nearby, across the street, is the National Horseracin­g Museum, handsomely telling the rich story of the origins, and developmen­t, of ‘the sport of kings’ through exhibits of historic silverware, racing silks and caps and photograph­s, films and stories of optimistic owners and the many famous jockeys who rode their horses to glory. You will gain a fascinatin­g insight into the scientific developmen­t of the ‘ideal’ horse, through the ages, tour the original 1903 Rothschild Yard, where you can meet former racehorses and find out how retired thoroughbr­eds are retrained after their racing days are over. A good day at the museum deserves some ‘downtime’ and the excellent ‘Tack Room’ café is the place to rest and refresh, with immaculate service, an extensive bill-of-fare and comfortabl­e surroundin­gs. A buzzy ambience, throughout the day, only adds to the pleasure of the experience.

Take your time, breathe in the rarefied atmosphere and appreciate what all the centuries of human commitment (and equestrian effort) have achieved – the ‘Turf’ will get to you and you’ll never treat the racing results with disdain, ever again.

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“On a five-acre site, three complement­ary attraction­s make up the superbly-presented National Heritage Centre for Horseracin­g and Sporting Art.”
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