Newmarket, The Home of Racing
One of the greatest benefits of living close to Newmarket is to drive through miles of beautifully landscaped and maintained stud properties on each journey in and out of town. It is easy to take such beauty for granted. We are so lucky to be the beneficiaries of some extremely wealthy stud owners, who are minded to spend considerable sums to ensure that their stud frontage compares favourably with the best manicured gardens. While not denigrating the stud owners of a bygone age, the overall appearance of the area has dramatically improved since my first visits to Newmarket in the Sixties and Seventies. Fifty years has seen such a dramatic change in many of Newmarket's historic buildings and landscapes.
Perhaps the single most important event was the arrival of Arab investment in the area beginning in the 1980’s. Sheikh Mohammed, Sheikh Hamdan and Prince Khalid Abdullah have invested heavily in thoroughbred nurseries and bases for their stallions. In building large acreages of stud holdings, they bought out several existing stud farms and also brought former agricultural land into railed paddocks. In the seventies, there were a number of small studs standing maybe just one or two stallions. The National Stud was by far the biggest stallion operation and most stud owners provided their own foaling and grazing facilities for a maximum book of 48 mares per stallion. Walk-in practices hardly existed and there were very few agistment properties nearby.
While the number of resident stallions in Newmarket may be less now than fifty years ago, the number of visiting mares will have dramatically increased. Some of Newmarket's most commercial stallions will have covered in excess of 150 mares in 2019. And most of these mares will be presented on a 'walking in ' basis. Some mares are travelled more than three hours to be covered, while new opportunities have also arisen for local studs to focus on foaling and agistment of visiting mares.
There are now more than 3000 horses in training in Newmarket. This number would have at least doubled the figures of fifty years ago. While the numbers of trainers may be the same, the numbers of horses that leading trainers of this age now train has dramatically increased. New training facilities both in and out of town have completely changed the landscapes. Sheikh Mohammed has developed three major facilities at Fairway ( Lord Derby's old training yard ), Moulton Paddocks and Warren Place. Hundreds of acres of new private gallops have been developed. The Jockey Club have also developed the Hamilton Road as a major new training centre and facility, while some of the major trainers have expanded their existing properties extensively. Inevitably some of the small town-centre stables have fallen into a state of disrepair for they are patently not now suitable for this more modern world, but are protected from alternative development by The Newmarket Town Charter.
Fifty years ago, there was no Newmarket bypass. The centre of town had to handle all through traffic to and from Norfolk before the dual carriageway of the A14 took the strain. Tattersalls new sales ring had just been constructed, but no one could have imagined that fifty years later nearly ten thousand horses would be sold there annually and that the complex would be expanded to stable more than 800 horses for any one sale. There were two small equine veterinary practices based in Newmarket, but now the area boasts two world-class veterinary complexes and more than 130 qualified veterinarians.
The Jockey Club have ploughed millions of pounds into the training facilities on their 3000 acres of Newmarket gallops. The majority of exercise for race horses in the Sixties was on grass for 365 days of the year. Now Newmarket boasts more than 30 miles of artificial training surfaces, while the extent of walkways, fencing, collecting areas and dedicated horse road crossings has changed the vista considerably. In fifty years, Newmarket has developed from a quaint little town into a 21st Century hub for raising, racing, training and selling thoroughbreds. Several thousand locals work or depend on its bloodstock world.
And here is the rub. This could all come tumbling down in a matter of years if new blood is not urgently found to replace the few extremely wealthy enthusiasts that underpin this centre. How lucky are we that the Arab families from Dubai and Saudi Arabia own a very large proportion of the horseflesh in the area? But what happens if or when they go?! It is currently hard to identify any likely successors to carry forward the names of Darley, Shadwell and Juddmonte.