Newmarket – the 400-year story of HQ
Whilst celebrations took place in 2016 to mark 350 years of Newmarket town and racecourse, a few earlier events of some significance are known, not least the ‘Devils Dyke’ earthworks built across the Heath by Anglo Saxons in around 1060, the granting of the right to hold a market in 1200 and the first record of a race being run at Newmarket in 1619.
But it’s 1666 when the start of Newmarket’s 350 years of history is deemed to have begun.
The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 led to King Charles II, the Merry Monarch, being crowned. Five years into his reign he set out the rules for a race to take place at Newmarket and, in 1666, the King returned for the first time in 25 years for the inaugural running of the Town Plate – a race over a round course of three miles and six furlongs which is still run today over the same round course, the only event so to do.
As well as attending Newmarket races, the King was at the forefront of developing the town. His father, the doomed King Charles I, had already built a grandstand on the Heath and a palace in the town and it was here that he was confronted by a delegation of parliamentarians demanding the surrender of his army.
A refusal often offends and the ensuing civil war led to the capture of King Charles I, who was placed under arrest in his Newmarket palace before being taken to London for trial and subsequent execution in 1649.
A consequence for Newmarket with its royalist connection was that it fell into disrepair with the palace being demolished. But its fortunes soon revived under the auspices of King Charles II.
His visit in 1666 was the first of many, including riding in a race in 1671, and it wasn’t long before he too commissioned the building of a palace although only a small part, Palace House, survives to this day.
Stables were built next to the palace and this led to the establishment of more stables in the area and the ‘headquarters’ of racing was beginning to take shape.
Royal patronage of racing at Newmarket continued, with King William III and Queen Mary II visiting the Suffolk town towards the end of the 17th century whilst Queen Anne, more famous for developing the court racecourse at Ascot, undertook refurbishment of Newmarket Palace in 1705.
The Jockey Club was resident in Newmarket by the middle of the 18th century and in 1752 it took a lease on a coffee house which is now the Jockey Club Rooms. And it was the Jockey Club which established the course’s two most important races, with the 2000 Guineas run for the first time in 1809 and, in 1814, the 1000 Guineas was added.
Race meetings grew in number and, by the middle of the 19th century, seven fixtures took place each year. And, towards the end of the century, a jumps track was opened situated close to where the Newmarket Links Golf Club is now, located alongside the road that runs between the Rowley Mile and the July Course.
The dominance of Flat racing at Newmarket meant that the jumps course struggled and the golf course replaced it in 1903.
Newmarket’s big race timeline
1619 earliest record of a race taking place at Newmarket
1666 Newmarket Town Plate is run for the first time
1786 July Stakes is first run
1809 first running of the 2000 Guineas
1814 2000 Guineas is joined by the fillies equivalent, the 1000 Guineas
1839 Still run over the same course, the Cesarewitch is introduced to form the ‘Autumn Double’ along with the Cambridgeshire
1866 Middle Park Stakes makes its debut
1875 Dewhurst Stakes is run for the first time
1876 first running of the July Cup
1894 Princess of Wales Stakes, named after Alexandra, wife of Edward, Prince of Wales, was run for the first time
1899 Cheveley Park Stakes comes into being
1911 Falmouth Stakes is run over the July Course
1915 The Derby is run at Newmarket for the duration of the First World War
1940 Again, the Derby is transferred to Newmarket during the Second World War
1962 Nell Gwyn Stakes is run for the first time
1997 Champions Day is introduced
2009 Future Champions day is inaugurated
The National Stud
The National Stud, situated on 500 acres near the July Course, was originally located at the Curragh, Ireland, and was founded in 1915 to provide the British army with horses to use in fighting.
But, as mechanical warfare took over, the breeding turned to the thoroughbred horse. The Irish government acquired the land during the Second World War for its own use as a national stud.
Move on some 20 years, and the Levy Board funded the leasing of the land in Newmarket from the Jockey Club which, in turn, acquired the stud and has run it since 2008.
The greatest horses to have raced at HQ
Flying Childers won his debut race, aged six, at Newmarket in 1721 and remained undefeated. He was sired by Darley Arabian, one of the three Thoroughbred ‘foundation’ stallions.
Also unbeaten was Eclipse, who won 18 races, four of them at Newmarket including his final two victories in 1770. He was retired to stud as nobody wanted to race against him, and produced 344 winners. Research undertaken 40 years ago found that around 80% of Thoroughbreds had Eclipse in their pedigree.
Eight times winner Hyperion, who was victorious in the 1933 Derby and St Leger, raced five times at Newmarket and finished first three times – in the Dewhurst, March and Burwell Stakes. His skeleton is housed in the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket.
Going one better than Hyperion in Classic terms was Nijinsky, who won the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger in 1970, the last horse to win the Triple Crown.
In 2011, the 2000 Guineas was won by Frankel. He’d already won his debut race as a two-year-old at Newmarket and returned later in the season to victory in the Dewhurst.
He won all 14 of his races in his three-year racing career.