The Secret Racegoer is a little underwhelmed by the National Racing Centre – but lunch was good
The Secret Racegoer so much wanted to enjoy a visit to Palace House, the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art, just off Newmarket Hight Street.
Indeed, there was much to enjoy, but there were also aspects which left one feeling a little flat.
There’s the name for a start. Palace House. But it’s not a stately home. It’s ostensibly a horseracing museum. It’s not quite saying what it does on the tin.
The premises are impressive and steeped in history, but not having “museum” in the title is an indication of some uncertainty of what Palace House is all about.
There is reference to “museum” – the Trainer’s House and King’s Yard within the Centre contain the National Horseracing Museum.
The former comprises a series of galleries which have numerous displays of racing’s heritage. But, it’s all a bit jumbled. It’s not a rag-bag, but it’s not coherent. It’s unclear if follows a timeline or a theme.
There’s an interesting video and digital map showing the development of Newmarket, especially how the two racecourses arrived at their current configurations, yet nothing similar for how racing developed across rest of the nation.
Similar treatment of Epsom, for example, would have been good as it’s only recently been confirmed where the first Derby start was located.
The overriding impression is that what’s on view has been decided by committee when it needed one person’s vision. Either that, or space has had to be found to show everything in the Centre’s possession.
The King’s Yard is better because individual horse boxes which surround it are used to exhibit items on a themed basis. But, again, it’s a bit cramped
Good use could be made of some of racing’s iconic paraphernalia, especailly in the courtyards, such as a set of starting stalls, runners and riders board, bookies joint, running rails and winning post.
Apart from some excellent equine sculpture, there’s little which meets the eye to suggest the place is about racing.
Everything is very worthy, but perhaps a tad dull.
Some fun could be had by showing a race video, and inviting visitors to commentate on the race.
There are, however, aspects of the Centre which deserve plaudits.
First, the Tack Room restaurant is a very pleasing venue for lunch and dinner. It’s a bright room with an outdoor area and you don’t have to pay the Centre’s £12 admission to dine there.
Service was friendly and efficient, and The Secret Racegoer felt obliged to go local, and have the Suffolk pork chop – a dish which can run the risk of being a bit dry. But not at the Tack Room. Served with a salsa verdi salad and crushed new potatoes, with apple sauce, it hit the spot.
A very decent rose blush was an ideal accompaniment and resistance was non-existent to a dessert of bakewell tart.
The plan was to walk off lunch by visiting the art gallery in Palace House itself which is part of the Centre, but a hop across the road.
Unfortunately, it was closed at the time for a private function, something which the Secret Racegoer would have liked to have known when buying the ticket.
So a little more time was spent in the gift shop where Hayley Turner popped in to do a spot of shopping.
It also meant more time reading the guidebook. At £5, it does a very good of recording racing’s history. But, again, it’s a bit hit and miss. It includes a glossary of betting terms, but not other terms and phrases associated with the sport.
There are horses in residence at Palace House, there as part of the Retraining of Racehorses, and it’s good to get up close to such beautiful creatures.
Returning to the gallery when it reopened was worth the wait.
Here was a superb collection of paintings, including numerous works by Stubbs and Munnings.
If only there had been more time to view them.