Arriving in Newmarket from any direction, there are clues to its past and present equine links: statues, business names and road names are good indications that this is an equestrian town — even before you see a horse. Nestled in Suffolk County about 100km north of London, Newmarket has been the centre of the British horse racing industry since 1666, following the first Newmarket Town Plate held in October 1665.
Although not the first race to be run in the town, it was the first to be run under an official set of rules. King Charles II first drew up these rules in 1665 and this is considered to be the inception of all formal horse racing in the UK. Charles II is the only reigning monarch to have ridden in and won a horse race, winning the Newmarket Plate in 1671. To this day the Newmarket Plate runs every summer, although it was not held in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The majority of towns are quiet before dawn, but not Newmarket. Here, residents favour an early start for their daily exercise routines. Standing near a road crossing by the Warren Hill Gallops, the chatter and laughter of the stable lads and lasses competes with the clip-clop of dozens of racehorses. As the equine procession comes into view, horses and riders are all sporting carnival-coloured, high-vis safety clothing. (Each trainer’s stable has its own colours that make identification easier). I am greeted with many “good mornings” and “hellos” from this happy and invariably polite band of riders aboard some of the finest racehorses in the world. They walk briskly towards the gallops, traversing roads at designated horse crossing points known as “Pegasus crossings”. These are equipped with rider-level control buttons as well as pedestrian controls.
While watching the horses on Warren Hill one morning, I met Abi, assistant to Australian-born trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam, which led to a visit to her truly magnificent Abington Place Stables on Newmarket’s Bury Road. Steeped in racing history, Abington Place Stables were designed by the aptly named architect John Flatman, son of the first champion flat racing jockey Elnathan ‘Nat’ Flatman. Nat won every English classic apart from the Oaks and held the Champion Jockey title from 1840-1852.
It was trainer Martin Gurry, whose initials grace the arch over the impressive and ornate entrance gates to this day, who commissioned John Flatman. The Victorian red-brick quadrangle, completed in 1895, comprises of stables on three sides and what was Gurry’s house and admin buildings on the fourth side. The centrepiece of this yard is a vibrant green lawn, graced by an impressive water feature showcasing a Nic Fiddian-Green horse-head sculpture.