Newmarket opens new horse racing heritage centre
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As a lifelong fan of all things equine,
Newmarket’s latest visitor attraction was always going to be my idea of horsey
heaven. Opened by Her Majesty the Queen
in November 2016, Palace House is the short name for the National Heritage
Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art - an attraction that combines a brand
new horseracing museum with Britain’s first gallery dedicated to sporting art, plus
some real live Thoroughbreds.
But this isn’t just an excursion for racing
fans. A trip to Newmarket provides a
fascinating insight into Britain’s second most popular spectator sport after
football, and an industry that’s the our fifth largest employer.
Newmarket became fashionable in the early
17th century when James 1 came here to hunt rabbits on what is now the training
gallop of Warren Hill. His courtiers
challenged each other to ‘match races’ and this passion for horseracing has been
passed down through the Royal Family ever since.
When I visited the original Horseracing
Museum on Newmarket High Street many years ago, historic artefacts were
displayed in a building behind the bronze statue of famous racehorse
Hyperion. Now they have new premises just
five minutes’ walk away in a house that once belonged to trainer Bruce Hobbs,
the youngest jockey ever to win the Grand National, aged just 17 in 1938.
Inside The Trainer’s House, visitors can browse
artefacts from the earliest days of horseracing and admire personal memorabilia
such as A P McCoy’s boots and even hairs from Desert Orchid’s tail. Interactive displays reveal everything from
how horses move to how champions are bred, and there’s a chance to ‘meet’ some
of the greats of today’s racing industry. Two brand new galleries house temporary exhibitions and there’s a
well-stocked gift shop.
Adjacent to the Trainer’s House, I found
more themed displays in the boxes around The King’s Yard and particularly liked
the story of a skeleton thought to be that of an 18th century champion called
Pot8o. His stable boy was told to write
his name - Potato - on the stable door but wrote Potoooooooo and the name just stuck!
In a corner of The King’s Yard, The Tack
Room restaurant is open to all - no museum ticket needed - and has quickly
proved a popular refuelling stop for local residents. I only had time for a coffee, but the menu
looked tempting and there are tables outside for warm days beside a lovely statue
Up to 3500 horses can be in training at any
one time around Newmarket in more than 80 racing stables. But arrive after
morning exercise and you may never see one. So the adjacent Rothschild Yard has been incorporated into the heritage
centre as a showcase for the Rehabilitation of Racehorses charity. Now visitors are guaranteed a close-up view
of former racehorses being retrained for a second career, with riding
demonstrations twice daily in the Peter O’Sullevan arena.
Across Palace Street from the museum, the
imposing red-brick building named Palace House is all that remains of Charles
II’s extensive royal residence. Now the
staircases and panelled rooms where Stuart courtiers once bustled about their
business are hung with the cream of sporting art. A big fan of Stubbs and Munnings, I’m
thrilled to find old favourites as well as make new discoveries - many on loan
from private collections and national museums.
Sporting art really began at Newmarket, but
gradually artists began to commit other sports to canvas - hare-coursing and
hawking, fishing, shooting and cricket. I
love the captain of Manchester Golf
Club, pictured with club in hand and sporting a traditional red hunting jacket!
Heritage centre tickets include access to
the gallery, museum and RoR yard so you can easily spend a few hours here: Adults
£16.50; Seniors £15.50 - full details from www.palacehousenewmarket.co.uk. But I was also booked in for a very
special overnight stay in the sumptuous surroundings of The Jockey Club
Rooms. Fronting onto the high street but
with extensive walled lawns behind, this private members’ club opens its doors
to the general public on a B&B basis outside of race meetings.
It’s a unique opportunity to see behind the
scenes of one of sport’s most famous organisations and to soak up a little more
of that traditional racing atmosphere. Sit down in one of the members’ lounges and you have your own personal
view of more priceless sporting art and artefacts.
Our bedroom had a huge bay window
overlooking the lawns and beyond the garden wall, I could see the head of a
young Thoroughbred going through its paces in a circular walker. The furnishings are traditional; the
paintings, equestrian; and our enormous bathroom boasted deep marble bath, twin
basins and separate shower.
With prices starting from £240 a night,
this is a special occasion stay, but would make a unique present. The Jockey Club Rooms also run a
series of Open House events each year, ranging from Champagne Afternoon Tea
& Tour, to Sunday Lunch, and Fine Dining Evenings.
If you still want to know more, book in
with Discover Newmarket who
organise half-day and full-day tours for individuals and groups. Join an established tour or customise your own. We started with an early morning visit to watch
horses training on the Gallops, then a visit to the National Stud, before
sitting in on the last day of the November bloodstock sales at
Tattersalls. No bidding though!
Finally, we pulled up by the entrance to
the Rowley Mile Racecourse to see the new statue of the Queen, sculpted larger
than life with a beautiful mare and foal, and unveiled by Her Majesty during
her November visit. A close-up view is
almost irresistible and I posed for a photo amongst the group, the closest I’m ever
likely to get to Royalty. Or is it?
While we were admiring the statue, a maroon
helicopter landed across the grass on the corner of the heath and a tall young
man got out of the pilot’s seat. Was it ...? Could it be …? It was! Prince William, just dropped in for a quiet
visit. Clearly the royal connections
with horseracing are set to last for at least another generation.
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