Discover Newmarket offers groups and individuals a unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at the home of horseracing’s headquarters in Newmarket. We were invited along this week to take a guided tour of the gallops, The National Stud and the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art at Palace House.
Upon arrival at Palace House, we were met by our Tour Guide, Larry. Larry was a jockey himself from the age of 15 for 18 years until injury meant he could no longer ride. It was clear to see that his passion for the sport had not waned because his knowledge was immense.
King Charles II
More than 350 years ago in March 1666 King Charles II returned to the heath and thought what a perfect place it would be to race horses. He would hold races between two horses on private courses and open fields, giving prizes to the winner. Today there are more than 14 miles of all-weather Canters around Newmarket.
We began our tour taking a short drive from Palace House to the Warren Hill gallops where the horses are brought up each morning to exercise for an hour or more over more than 2.5acres of land. This is where champions past and present come to stretch their legs and fine tune their speed and agility. Indeed Warren Hill was the training ground for champion racehorse Frankel.
A String of Horses
The first thing we noticed as we approached the heath was the large groups of horses in matching blankets. Larry explained that these groups are known as a ‘string of horses’ which means they are a group owned or used by one individual. The coloured blankets all bore the initials of the trainers they belonged to.
As we stood to the side of the gallops we watched as strings from top trainer’s yards Ed Dunlop, Marco Botti, Sir Mark Prescott and John Gosden took to the heath. I don’t think I have ever seen so many horses in one place. It was quite a sight to behold so early in the morning. Watching these magnificent animals walk by I had to wonder how many of these would become famous champions like Time Test and Gregorian who we would meet later in the day?
The children were all fascinated to see the horses as they ran up the gallops and then gently trotted off through the trees. A few horses even stopped by to say hello to the children, which made their day.
Horses in Training
Newmarket is home to around one-third of the UK’s flat horses in training, currently around 3000 horses with more than 80 trainers.
Driving away from Warren Hill, Larry pointed out some of the famous training yards and homes of the greatest trainers in the sport. If you book onto one of Discover Newmarkets guided tours then you can get exclusive access to trainer’s YARDS and studs of which there are more than 30 such as His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai’s Dalham Hall Stud. Here you will see the impressive facilities and champion stallions like Dubawi, New Approach and Golden Horn.
Horses are number one
In Newmarket horses hold the number one spot and have the absolute right of way, they even have their own traffic lights. As the riders approach a crossing they hit a lever at the top of the pole which activates the lights to stop the traffic and allow the horse to cross. Horses also have their own footpaths.
Following on from Warren Hill we saw Side Hill which offered a further 1.5 miles of canter before reaching Cheevely House which is home to 5 or 6 stallions, the oldest and most famous being Pivotal who is now 24 years old.
The National Stud
In 1915 Lord Wavertree donated his entire bloodstock to the British Government to breed high-quality, lightweight cavalry horses. With the advances in technology and warfare, the focus changed to the Thoroughbred and so The National Stud was formed and has been home to horse-racing legends ever since. Past champions include Mill Reed and Sun Chariot.
The National Stud first opened its doors to the public in the mid-1970s and is still the only commercial stud farm in the UK to all visitors to look behind the scenes. Once again, we were lucky enough to get up close to the current Stallions in residence; Aclaim, Gregorian, Lancaster Bomber and Time Test.
Breeding season for racehorses starts in February and ends in June, during this time the Stallions cover approximately 3,000 mares generating a total turnover of more than £102m in covering fees.
On the day of our tour, our group had 10 children so it was fun listening to Larry and the Stallion team trying to explain the breeding process without enlightening the children. It has to be said that children are very intuitive though as still managed to pick up on some aspects.
Each stallion will ‘cover’ (mate) three times a day with the whole process of bringing the mare in, popping padded boots on her hind legs to protect the stallion if she kicks, the physical action and getting her back into the trailer taking around 20-30 minutes. Mares are given three ‘bites at the cherry’ with the stallions by which time they will hopefully be pregnant.
Before our time at the National Stud was finished we were taken to the Foaling unit where we were able to say hello to some of Time Tests new foals who were born in the last couple of weeks. I wonder whether they will be the winners we will be cheering on in a couple of years time?
The Beans were very excited to be back at Palace House, they love all the interactive exhibits that test their knowledge of horses and teach them things they didn’t know. Their favourite, of course, is the racing horse simulator which they were brilliant at.
Lillie really liked the First Women exhibition which will be at Palace House until 10th June. It presents one hundred vivid photographic portraits by Anita Corbin of women who have all successfully pioneered a role or achievement in society.
The children finished their visit to Palace House with time in the craft room making snow globes, colouring and paper folding. When the time came to leave, there were moans and groans from the children but the promise to return again soon put the smiles back on their faces.
Discover Newmarket offer a range of Guided Tours. Last year they hosted 708 tours and naturally are hoping to increase that figure this year. Available tours include:
- Country Mile Tour – full-day tour showing Newmarket’s Top attractions including The National Heritage Centre, The National Stud, a trainer’s yard and the gallops.
- Race Day Tour – Start the day with a driven tour of the town, followed by a visit to the National Heritage Centre. Head up to the racecourse for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour and see the Weighing Room, Royal Box and Commentators Box and head inside the Parade Ring with owners, trainers and jockeys. This tour also includes Premier enclosure badges to enjoy the racing after the tour.
- Short Head Tour – half-day morning tour visiting the gallops, a trainer’s yard and then travel to The National Heritage Centre or The National Stud.
- Tattersalls Tour – visit one of the most famous bloodstock auction houses. Start with a guided tour of the gallops, head to a trainer’s yard and then head to the National Heritage Centre for a tour and lunch.
- Champagne After Tea and Tour – learn about the incredible history of The Jockey Club and horseracing through the Rooms Stewards at The Jockey Club Rooms, with a guided viewing of sporting art and memorabilia at the private members club, followed by a Champagne Afternoon Tea.
- Dalham Hall Stud Tour – exclusive opportunity to visit His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai’s Dalham Hall Studd, Goldolphin’s International Headquarters.
- Discover Newmarket Feature Tour – start with a visit to the gallops and then take a behind-the-scenes tour of a busy racing yard before heading to the member’s only club, The Jockey Club Rooms.
If you would like to book a visit or tour to Newmarket I have a discount code which will give you 10% Discount (not including family tickets).