The Secret Racegoer’s guide to Newmarket’s July Course
The two sets of grandstands may be only a couple of furlongs apart, facing each other across the Heath, but there couldn’t be a greater contrast between Newmarket’s duo of racecourses.
Whereas the Rowley Mile is dominated by its towering Millennium stand, all glass and chrome, and trying to impress, the July Course is more sedate and comfortable in its country-casual attire.
The Rowley Mile looks out over a vast and sometimes bleak expanse of land with a line of trees in the distance. The July Course is tucked behind those trees, which border the far side running rail, and there’s little to indicate the open space which lies beyond the greenery.
Probably helped by racing when the weather can be at its best – it’s not called the July Course for nothing – the summer venue is relaxed, with all the facilities close at hand.
The grandstands are built of brick, wood replaces chrome and the feeling is of faded glory, but anything done to modernise them would achieve little and destroy the ambience.
Modernity has been introduced behind the stands by a series of buildings housing bars, food outlets, tote windows and toilets. Sympathetic to their surroundings, the predominant materials used are wooden cladding and white pavilion-style roofing.
Older buildings, such as the weighing-room, have thatched roofs, and there’s a genteelness about the place, although possibly not when Friday night is music night.
Coming from London, the first leg of travelling to Newmarket is straightforward enough. The fast train service from London King’s Cross to Cambridge takes 45 minutes.
It’s when you get to Cambridge that the gloss is taken off, with three options for making the onward journey to racing’s HQ, none of which are ideal.
The most straightforward, but also the most expensive, is a taxi which will set you back £30 or more, but there’s a very good chance you can share the cab.
Alternative road transport is a coach laid on by the racecourse but it needs to be pre-booked and leaves Cambridge station at 12.30 (for afternoon meetings). The journey time is around half an hour depending on the traffic.
It you want to continue by train then there’s an hourly service to Newmarket which takes about 20 minutes. But be warned, this is a rural service of only two or three carriages.
Not so much a problem on quiet days, but on feature racedays such as the July Cup, you travel like sardines and worse you may not be able to get on the train – it frequently departs leaving would-be passengers on the platform.
At Newmarket station there are a handful of taxis waiting (which can also be pre-booked), or free shuttle buses which depart from outside the station or from Newmarket High Street.
Getting a taxi back can be a bit chaotic with local cabbies complaining that the taxi rank arrangements are over-engineered.
Something which both Newmarket courses have in common is that viewing is limited.
On the Rowley Mile, because you can get further up in the stands and due to the rising ground, there’s pretty much an uninterrupted view down the straight as far as the mile start which, for some reason, appears to be further away than mile starts at other racecourses.
The stands on the July course don’t offer the same opportunity to climb quite so high. So, as with the Rowley Mile, you are very much dependent on the big screen and sometimes on a sunny day that’s not so easy to see.
The July’s picturesque parade ring is adjacent to the track, sited beyond the winning post. The small winner’s enclosure is separate to the paddock, positioned on the main thoroughfare linking the enclosures.
The layout of the enclosures means that Grandstand patrons have to make their way round behind the Premiere Enclosure to access the paddock.
Eating and drinking
Partaking of refreshments at the July Course is very much al fresco. There’s a small champagne bar with its own lawn area near the winning post in the Premiere Enclosure positioned between the stands and the paddock.
Many of the other Premiere Enclosure bars are situated behind the stands with open counters and seating underneath canopies. There’s also a terrace bar and food outlet as part of the refreshment area complex accessed by stairs and a walkway.
There are indoor bars situated below the stands and apart from the presence of TV screens and other modern-day accoutrements, little has changed in their appearance, and you can imagine the time when racegoers were wearing trilby hats and demob suits or dresses purchased from saved up ration coupons.
The July Course fine-dining is located in the Summer House restaurant which has the look of a conservatory, with the drawback being that situated behind the stands, there’s no view of the racing.
The Premiere’s two walk-in restaurants (or bistros as the course likes to call them) are both open air affairs, with Stravinsky’s, situated on a raised platform, offering a two-course meal whilst Mozart’s is ideal for a quick lunch.
It’s a similar story in the Grandstand enclosure, which also has bars under the stands, another bistro, and a fast-food courtyard comprising a wide selection of stalls which between them seem to offer the best choice for eating on the hoof.
If the Rowley Mile is somewhat brash, with the reputation for the odd exchange of fisticuffs, the Adnams July Course (to give its full name – but let’s not) is by contrast gentrified, albeit the Secret Racegoer hasn’t been to the track on a music night.
The mood is relaxed, the racing competitive and, on a sunny day, it’s a lovely way to fund the bookmakers’ pension plans.
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