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It was King James I who introduced the sport to the sleepy village of Newmarket in the early 1600’s after having stumbled across the open stretch of heathland whilst out hunting. Already a lover of equestrian pursuits, he recognised its potential and built the first grandstand on the heath. However, it was during the reign of Charles II that horseracing flourished and developed. He was competent in the saddle and, along with womanising and generally making merry, he loved nothing more than the company of his jockeys. He had a palace built and from 1669 onwards moved his entire court, including all his ministers, to Newmarket twice a year for the racing season. Newmarket became known as the ‘unofficial’ capital where affairs of state were conducted alongside racing, hawking and cock-fighting. Newmarket Racecourse’s Rowley Mile takes its name from Charles II’s nickname, ‘Olde Rowley’. It’s amusing to note that Olde Rowley was a stallion at the Royal stud and this nickname alluded to the many illegitimate children Charles II was known to have sired!
Newmarket is still regarded as the ‘HQ’ of British horseracing and is the greatest horseracing centre in the world. Today, 1 in 3 people in Newmarket are employed in the world of racing and it’s evident from the moment you approach that this is a one industry, if not a one horse, town.
There are 70 training yards, 80 stud farms, 70 miles of training gallops (owned and managed by the Jockey Club Estates), numerous blacksmiths and vets as well as Gibson Saddlers – the famous saddlers and silk makers to the Queen. Newmarket is also home to the National Stud, the National Horseracing Museum, the Equine Hospital, Tattersalls Bloodstock Auctioneers and, of course, Newmarket Racecourse itself. At any one time there are around 2,000 thoroughbreds in training in Newmarket and it’s a wonderful sight when, as a mere passer-by, you encounter them being put through their paces against the beautiful pastoral landscape early in the morning.
Whilst known as the ‘Sport of Kings’ horseracing’s appeal has always been broad. It is the second most popular spectator sport in Britain after football and over the centuries has become a British sporting institution much loved and followed by people from all walks of life.
Learn more about Newmarket by visiting Discover Newmarket's website.
Newmarket has two courses: the Rowley Mile and the July Course. During the spring and autumn months racing takes place at the Rowley Mile, which derives its name from Charles II nickname of Olde Rowley. The Rowley Mile offers the ultimate flat racing experience along the most historic stretch of turf in the entire world of sport where equine champions have been crowned for centuries. Highlights include the Guineas Festival at the start of the season, the Cambridgeshire Meeting at the end of September and the new Future Champions Day in early October.
Summer at Newmarket means the magical romance of the July Course, an oasis of sun dappled lawns, flourishing flowers and thatched roofs. The surroundings create a garden party atmosphere unlike any other racecourse, making it a summer favourite with so many people. The July Course still has world class racing though at The July Festival, when fabulous fashion combines with three days of scintillating racing to create the East of England’s answer to Royal Ascot.
The National Stud is the only working stud farm in the UK which opens its doors to the public and offers them a unique behind the scenes look at a working thoroughbred farm. Visitors have the opportunity to meet famous champions such as: Bahamian Bounty, Cockney Rebel, Pastoral Pursuits and recent addition, Dick Turpin, as well as much-loved Grand National Winner Amberleigh House. Public tours of the stud run twice daily from February half-term until the end of October. Private tours and large group tours are available by advance booking.
Discover the stories of racing from its early royal origins at Newmarket to its modern-day heroes, featuring the horses, people, events and scandals that made it so colourful. Find out about the history of the Classic races. Learn about the life of Fred Archer, champion Victorian jockey who met with a tragic end. See the silks worn by Frankie Dettori for his ‘Magnificent Seven’ winners in one afternoon. Displays and objects associated with famous racing heroes such as Red Rum, Lester Piggott and Best Mate.
Along with a fantastic collection of British sporting art the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket also has a practical gallery where visitors can learn more about life as a jockey, stable lad or trainer – straight from the horse’s mouth! Staffed by retired jockeys and trainers, you can learn how to feed a racehorse for maximum performance, tack up ready for racing, and ride a racehorse on the horse simulator.