UK: Newmarket, the Capital of Horseracing
Horses to Newmarket: England's Equestrian Epicenter
By Angela Youngman
If you like horses – then Newmarket is definitely for you. This is a place where horses come first. It is no surprise really given that Newmarket is the capital of horse racing.
This is where horse racing, as we know it today, really began back in the seventeenth century when the kings of England brought their courts to Newmarket to hold races across the heath.
Most famous of all was Charles II whose horse, Old Rowley, is commemorated in the Rowley Mile at Newmarket Racecourse. A plaque on a house just off the main street tells of another famous resident, Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynn.
Now everywhere you go in Newmarket there are racehorses. Over 30,000 are trained here, exercising each day on the heath from dawn onwards. Long strings of horses can be seen riding out, identifiable only by the color of their saddle blankets and the caps of their riders. Watching them you cannot tell which is a top racer, and which is a future star.
As we discovered, a guided tour by Discover Newmarket is the best way to identify where to go and what to see. There are 50 miles of grass tracks and 40 miles of all weather surfaces covering 2,000 acres of heathland.
Most of the horses gather up at The Severals on the outskirts of town before trotting to the base of Warren Hill. Often several strings of horses can be seen at the same time.
Along the way, our guide Malcolm (an ex amateur jockey) pointed out the different trainers yards and the unusual aspects of life in Newmarket. When training, the lead rider in a string can even operate a lever to turn traffic lights red – horses take priority over cars!
A Horse Walk
There is a dedicated horse walk through the streets of the town. Not far away is the Gypsy Boys grave. For centuries, flowers have been placed anonymously on the grave and it is said that the flower colors on Derby Day indicate the colors of the winning horse.
The Discover Newmarket tour also took us to a trainers yard. These are normally out of bounds, and provided a wonderful insight into the life of the apprentice riders, lads and lassies who care for the horses and ride them out every day.
They can only do this after attending a special Racing School. Riding a racehorse is very different to riding a normal horse. Our guide Malcolm describes it as being like the difference between a Rolls Royce and a Mini. The racehorse glides across the ground.
An opportunity to test this soon came when we entered the National Horse Racing Museum. A retired jockey oversees people (including apprentices seeking to improve their skill) trying out the racehorse simulator.
Dressed in Racing Colors
Dressed in racing colors, my companion mounted the horse and gingerly took the reins. Suddenly the horse was off, and she was being told to stand up in the stirrups as the horse got faster and faster. Within minutes she was exhausted, it was extremely hard work.
It is not just racehorses in training to be found at Newmarket. This is also where future winners are bred in the numerous studs that can be found throughout the region. One of the most famous is the National Stud which was once home to one of the most famous race horses, Mill Reef.
The tour took us around the various stable blocks, explained how the stud worked and introduced to us to some recently born foals.
One of the hidden treasures of Newmarket is the Jockey Club. Despite the name this is not a club for jockeys but for owners and people involved in the industry. An elegant seventeenth century building, it houses an outstanding collection of paintings, antiques and racing artifacts.
The Jockey Club
Entering the Jockey Club rooms is by guided tour only and it is fascinating. Every wall is covered with paintings created by famous artists such as Stubbs and Munning, showing horses at rest or galloping in races.
Then there are the unusual artifacts like King Charles II’s whip, a mummified prehistoric horses hoof, card tables where gamblers only allowed one candle to be lit, a ‘Rogues Gallery’ (as our guide described it) of Jockey club members, and the boxes from which the phrase ‘blackballed’ is derived.
It is the racing tales that really bring each item alive, and show how racing owes so much to Newmarket. Even the colorful system of jockey’s silks was first created here by a former Royal Navy admiral.
Whether on your own or as a family, Newmarket has a lot to offer. It is definitely worth opting for a guided tour as you can see so much more than is possible on your own. This is the only way you can visit many of the sites and go behind the scenes.
Angela Youngman is the author of numerous travel and other books for a range of publishers. These include walking books, and guides to various travel themes and topics. She lives in England.