The day hadn’t really dawned, and it was still twilight outside when everyone was getting up to catch the coach for the life cycle of a thoroughbred trip on Saturday 11 May.
After pickups in Kidderminster and Bromsgrove we were on our way by 5:45am. About 130 miles later and a stop at the services for a comfort break and a much needed caffeine intake, we arrived in Newmarket.
Newmarket. Simply known as HQ to the flat racing industry. Home to the National Stud, some 60 racing stables, 64 miles of training gallops, two world class racecourses, the Jockey Club rooms, Tattersall’s horse sales and, in particular, some 5,000 thoroughbred race horses. The only place in the country where horses have their own walkways at the side of the roads, right of way over all other traffic and their own horse zebra crossings!
Having picked up our tour guide Christine, a tremendously knowledgeable lady, we made our way to the Moulton gallops at the east side of the town.
Although 9am is late in the day by Newmarket standards there were still a fair number of horses being exercised by their attentive riders, under the watchful eyes of head lads and assistant trainers. These were mainly two-year-olds, some of whom appeared to fly up the slopes at an impressive gallop, although we were informed that this was just a brisk canter and nowhere near a race pace!
From the gallops we were treated to a tour of the Moulton Road, Well Bottom and Bury Road areas of the town, where Christine pointed out the stable complexes of such top trainers, as Michael Stout, Henry Cecil and of course Godolphin, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. She also narrated a series of amusing and interesting anecdotes of Newmarket life.
Next stop was the village of Exning, a couple of miles away, and the racing stables of trainer Julia Fielden and her husband (and 'head lad') John Birkett. What a fantastic little yard!
All 27 horses spend at least five hours out of their stables a day, the establishment having the benefit of some 30 acres of paddocks. Bedding is laced with lavender and eucalyptus oils to promote calmness and negate any breathing problems. This results in some really happy and laid back animals, especially the young filly who was lay down in her stable and didn’t even bother to move when confronted by over 30 people crowding into her door way!
The care of these animals is amazing, John has designed his own feeds and additives with the help of an equine nutritionist and feed producer. He gave an interesting and wonderfully informative talk on the subject, as well introducing everyone to his horses and allowing them to be fussed and fed polo mints!
Next stop was the National Stud on western edge of Newmarket Heath and next door to the July Racecourse. The complex is housed in some 500 acres of prime grassland giving the mares and the young foals plenty of space for exercise and relaxation.
Again, Christine gave us the benefit of her extensive knowledge explaining the breeding programme, as well as the care and nurturing of the mares, their young foals and the resident stallions. She also went through the history of the stud and some of the wonderful stallions in the past, such as Mill Reef, probably one of the greatest race horses of all time.
A tour of the stud’s facilities finished with a visit to see some of the stallions out in their paddocks as well as the chance to get up close to Amberleigh House, the 2004 Grand National winner, who lives at the stud in happy retirement.
Finally, this year’s young foals and their proud mothers attracted a lot of attention and fuss before it was time to leave.
The last two hours or so of the trip were given up to free time in the town allowing people the chance to eat and relax or visit the National Racing Museum, in High Street, next to the Jockey Club Rooms and HQ.
Some of the more energetic who visited the museum pitted their riding skills against the race horse simulator and thoroughly enjoyed it, although we don’t think Frankie Dettori has too much to worry about!
Despite the threat of heavy showers, the rain held off until the coach was loaded and underway back to Worcestershire. In all, it was a tremendous day out and well worth the sleep deprivation of the early start!
Top: a brisk canter on Moulton Road gallops; 2004 Grand National winner Amberleigh House hunting for polos
Bottom: two of Julia Fielden’s horses ready for a spot of exercise; a protective mum and her foal saying hello to some of our members