In Newmarket, the horse is king. Thoroughbreds have right of way, their own equine ‘pavements’, traffic light system and, it seems, monopoly of the town. Their stable yards are tucked in places where you might expect to find a garage or garden; their neighing as common as birdsong.
Out on the Gallops. Photo: Aston Martin Pictures
Humans exist to serve them, labouring over their every need. Yes, horse racing is big business here. Retired jockeys and stablehands linger not for the daily wage but for the thrill that hangs in the air. “There is anything up to 8,000 horses within a 10-mile radius of the town,” confirms Chris Garibaldi, director of the National Horseracing Museum, located on Newmarket’s high street. “Its cultural heritage dates back to the Stuarts; James I was responsible for introducing the ‘sport of kings’ to the town.”
The National Stud mares. Photo: Aston Martin Pictures
Palace House, where Charles II spent many a season, is undergoing a £15m refurbishment to develop a ‘National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art’. The centre will incorporate a new museum celebrating horse racing and a national gallery of British sporting art, and will feature live thoroughbred horses. The site is due to open to the public in spring 2016, but in the meantime, the museum will remain open throughout 2015 with an exhibition of the sporting art of the Dukes of Grafton, including paintings by Stubbs, Wootton and the School of Van Dyck.
Various tours operate from the National Horseracing Museum, a place filled with every imaginable equine item. Among the most popular is the Gallops Tour, hosted by a guide who knows the town inside out, from the location of the oldest stables to the names of various local trainers.
Out on the ‘gallops’ training circuit, part of the 3,500 pristine acres managed by the Jockey Club (the body that sets the standard in British horseracing and welfare), horses are put through their paces by riders known in the industry as ‘dungies’ or would-be jockeys. Newmarket’s British Racing School is a premier venue for those learning the ropes. We watch in awe as a cantering string pass yards ahead of us, kicking up divots as they go, some riders working hard to try and control their skittish mounts.
The tour continues as we climb back on the minibus, driving past the late Sir Henry Cecil’s yard (trainer of the great Frankel), Animal Health Trust, and on to visit a working trainer’s yard where it’s possible to pet the stabled horses and find out about how they are kept. The tour concludes at Rowley Mile racecourse, named after the Merry Monarch’s favourite horse (Old Rowley), where we learn more about race-day action.
In the afternoon, it’s a visit to The National Stud just outside town where 90-minute minibus tours run from February to October. New season foals lark about on spindly legs with their mothers in the nursery paddocks while the stallions are kept well out of range. The bus passes through some of the stud’s 500 acres, letting passengers see highlights such as the ‘covering’ barn where the mares are efficiently impregnated – with the hopeful outcome of producing a future champion.
In a paddock is swarthy stallion Dick Turpin, whose current stud fee is £4,000. With luck his offspring may one day take their place in the racehorse hall of fame.
For a comprehensive overview of the sporting attractions and heritage of Newmarket, including group and individual bespoke tours, accommodation, and forthcoming events go to www.newmarketexperience.co.uk