Is there a more wonderful place to be than Newmarket in August? Well, yes, Newmarket in spring for the 2,000 Guineas.
To the uninformed few, Newmarket’s Rowley Mile course hosts the first English classic of the season in May.
It is a prestigious race run since1809, with the winner’s name remembered for generations. The Rowley Mile, with many days of the highest calibre racing at the start and end of summer, is the more senior and prestigious of Newmarket’s two courses.
The atmosphere could not be more different at the July Course, which hosts the racing in July and August. Furthermore, the racing may not be of the same calibre as on the Rowley Mile, although the Sweet Solera Stakes can sometimes throw up decent fillies ahead of their three-year old season.
Perhaps it is for that reason that on my many visits to Newmarket, flat racing’s HQ, I have always visited its Rowley Mile course. Unfortunately, the July Course had been overlooked by this old bean; usually the lure of Glorious Goodwood or a poolside cocktail had proved too great in the high summer months.
That changed this past weekend and my crumpled linen suit and I shuffled off to HQ.
Like many gadabout off to the races I usually arrive at the track with time to spare, breath in the bucolic surroundings, have a glass of something and check the form.
However, with little or no form to talk of on this weekend’s card, the chance of a morning spent at Newmarket’s racehorse museum at the rather lovely Palace House proved irresistible.
For a horse racing geek, of which I am a fully paid up member, the collection is a treasure trove of joy and I quite frankly could have spent hours pottering amongst the delights. There are paintings ranging from the past two centuries, ancient whips, saddles and silks, as well as memorabilia from such modern luminaries as Lester Piggott and AP McCoy.
For those looking for a macabre twist in proceedings they can ogle an antique pistol that dear old Fred Archer used to commit suicide, which sits on display next to a cutting of the magnificent Dessert Orchid’s famous white tail.
After a first look round (I acquired a very reasonably priced UK£15 annual ticket), there was just time to drop in to the museum’s rather splendid restaurant, The Tack Room, to fill my boots and grumbling belly.
Newmarket does have a somewhat ‘spit and sawdust’ approach to fine dining – well, jockeys do need to keep to minimum weight. The Tack Room, however, is a classy joint and perfect for a pre-race lunch. Furthermore, it is full of horsey folk – unsurprisingly for HQ – and that unquestionably whets ones spirits for the races.
You can eat inside but last Saturday there was enough August heat to lure me to a table in courtyard.
The food is of decent quality, as is the price. Three mains and bot. of prosecco came to just under 50 quid, which is what I would have donated to the bookies after the first few races anyways!
So what of the racing? A panama-hatted, linen-suited joy. The relaxed ambience is somewhere between that of a village fete and cricket pavilion, with a side order of marvellous racing on show.
Despite, the lure of the unique if not universally popular Shergar Cup at Ascot, which attracted 32,000 punters, it was noticeable that the vast majority of the sport’s top trainers – John Gosden, Richard Hannon Jr, Mark Johnson and Hugo Palmer – were in
attendance. And, like most meetings they strolled amongst the crowds and horses without any trouble or the worry of being ‘selfied’ by an overzealous fan.
The racing was competitive and fun. My cash flowed from wallet like an elegant waterfall and landed in the bookmakers welcoming lagoon. A 7-1 one shot, on the nose, did, however, enable me to wash my face for the day.
The July Course is as English as a cream tea and its unpretentious character would, in my humble opinion, be the perfect first racing experience to those not in the know. In fact, the debutant would find the whole day even more enthralling should they make a day of it – a morning at the museum, a break for lunch and a glass or two as the gently warming sun.
Splendid, I thought.