When you think of horse racing, one of the first places that should pop into your head is Newmarket. It is a location offered referred to as the headquarters of British racing, especially flat racing, because in addition to a wonderful course, many high-profile trainers keep their stables nearby.
With such a large number of talented horses located a stone’s throw away, Newmarket has long been able to attract such a high standard of racing. In addition, it is a centre for breeding, home to a number of racing museums and also where the Jockey Club has one of its bases.
As so many people flock to Newmarket racecourse each year, it is a place that features a lot more accommodation options than your standard small market town. If you are hoping to stay overnight, there are plenty of convenient and highly-rated options nearby that are ideal for a one-night stay or a longer break.
Just Down the Road
The heart of Newmarket is well equipped when it comes to hotels. Here you will find options like the Best Western Heath Court Hotel, the White Hart Hotel, Premier Inn Newmarket, Kings Hotel, and the Jockey Club Rooms. All of these options are just a few minutes from the free shuttle bus service (pick up by Unico restaurant) that will drop you off at the racecourse.
You can choose to walk to the Rowley Mile course in 30 minutes instead, but after the entrance there is no dedicated pedestrian path, meaning you will need to walk on grass. The July Course is a further 50-minute walk and it’s not a pleasant stroll either as it takes you down a busy A road with only a thin path. If you are happy to walk an extra ten minutes to reach the shuttle bus pick-up point, you may wish to stay at the luxurious Bedford Lodge which offers full-service spa, fitness centre and indoor poll.
If you have access to a car then this opens up a few options located a little outside of Newmarket itself. Less than two miles away in Exning you have the Hotel Rosery Country House, while in Moulton to the west there is the five star Packhorse Inn. Moving out a little further and Kentford is able to offer The Bell Inn and Freckenham further northwards is home to the Golden Boar Inn. As you would expect, all these options are situated in very quiet parts of Suffolk surrounded by countryside.
Cambridge for a City Stay
Cambridge is a wonderful place to visit so naturally many racegoers enjoy heading here after they have had fun watching the horses. Not only a major tourist destination but Cambridge is the most easily accessible city to the racecourse. Needless to say, given its popularity, the city is full to the brim with a range of accommodation possibilities. Many will set you back a decent amount per night but some budget-friendly options are available, such as Travelodge Newmarket Road and Premier Inn Cambridge East.
About the Racecourse
Newmarket is home to some of the best flat horse racing action in the country. Only Ascot hosts more Group 1 races, this being the very top rank a flat race can achieve. Additionally, no other course hosts as many combined Group 2 and Group 3 races, which is still racing at an extremely elite level. So, if you are looking to see some of the best thoroughbreds this wonderful sport has to offer, Newmarket is an excellent choice.
This applies to both car owners and public transport users because Newmarket is easily accessed by both. If coming by train, Newmarket station is around two miles away from both courses. From here, you can simply take advantage of the free shuttle bus that runs between course and station, walk, or grab a cheap taxi. The train station is served by one service that runs to/from Cambridge and Ipswich. In each direction a train leaves every hour with the journey itself taking 20 minutes from Cambridge and 50 minutes from Ipswich.
If coming by bus, both the 11 and 12 public buses take you close to the course but on racedays there is a dedicated Outrider coach service that collects from Cambridge Station. Outrider services, which will take you directly to the racecourse, also depart from Royston, Bury St Edmunds and Ely with standard pricing being £10 return and £6 one way.
For those of you wanting to travel by car, the racecourse is just off the A14 which connects to the A1 (north and south bound) and the A11 which will take you into the heart of Norwich. From the Newmarket bypass exit the course is a mere three miles away. When driving it is important to ensure you head to the correct course as Newmarket has two of them. If it is the July Course (mid-summer meetings) you want the postcode CB8 0XE while for the Rowley Mile Course you want to pop CB8 0TF in the sat nav. Premier parking costs £7.50/£10 at both but the main public car park is free of charge.
We should also mention that Newmarket is also home to the National Horse Racing Museum, a family friendly place where kids and adults can learn all about the origins of the sport. It is open Tuesday to Sunday inclusive from 10am – 5pm, as well as Monday Bank Holidays. Under 16s get in free while adult tickets are £15. With the behind the scenes tours (11:30 & 14:00), you have the special treat of visiting a retired racehorse up close in the Rothschild Yard.
Newmarket is quite unusual due to the fact that it has two distinct courses, both of which come with their own grandstands. Adding to the uniqueness of both courses is their shape, with the pair rather like a large ‘L’ as opposed to a traditional oval circuit. Due to this, horses only face a maximum of one turn at Newmarket meaning there is an abundance of straight line, long galloping running. This helps separate the best from the rest and it is partly why trainers are keen on sending their most able horses here.
Although the two courses share the same start during longer races, before branching out to different home straights, the grandstand areas are nowhere near each other. It pays to double check you are heading to the right course before you set off as you will not be able to walk across the tracks and hurdle over Devil’s Dyke if you don’t. No matter which course you are visiting though, you will enjoy some spectacular views of the Suffolk countryside and of an extremely well-maintained racecourse.
Newmarket may have a prestigious reputation but despite this, they have adopted a fairly relaxed stance when it comes to clothing requirements. In the Grandstand & Paddock and Garden enclosures, pretty much anything goes whether it is jeans, t-shirt or trainers. You can even bring fancy dress along too providing it is in good taste. It is only in the Premier Enclosure in which Newmarket sets the bar higher but even then they stop short of making smart attire compulsory.
What they do say however is that dressing smartly is encouraged with most gents wearing smart trousers, shirts and formal shoes. Jeans are not strictly banned (except in hospitality areas) but they are very seldom worn and any jeans should feature dark denim. Tailored shorts are acceptable too during warm weather meetings. As for the ladies, many choose to wear hats but once again this is by no means a formal requirement.
As Newmarket features two courses, to make things easier to follow we will start by focussing on one, the Rowley Mile. Here there are two ticket choices, a Grandstand & Paddock ticket which provides access to two small stands providing some shelter from sun, or, more probably, rain, but is rather a no-frills experience. That said, despite the plain and low-height stands, you do have access to the parade ring, pre-parade ring and winners’ enclosure, plus numerous food and drink outlets. Part of this area is transformed into the classy-looking Century Stand during the flagship Guineas Festival.
Towering over these smaller stands on the Rowley Mille course is the Premier Stand. With this you can either take up a position that overlooks the finishing post or you can walk right up beside the rail where it is. This large and modern stand provides great shelter from the elements and features a number of top food and drink outlets including the popular Bistro. Finally, the Rowley Mile does feature a stand-less Garden Enclosure but this is specifically aimed at families with kids as it features a children’s play area and limited, though adequate, betting facilities.
The situation over at the July Course is quite similar. This also features a stand-less Garden Enclosure designed for a (relatively) inexpensive fun family day out. The next ticket up for this is the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure which does feature a covered stand and a sizeable area in front that goes right up to the rail. Once again though it is the Premier Enclosure and its stand that allows access by the winning post. The Premier Stand here, however, is much smaller and less modern than the one on the Rowley Mile so the two are not directly comparable.
The July Course does come with some extra perks, such as the popular Moët & Chandon Champagne bar, the Summer House restaurants, hospitality pavilions and the highly exclusive Champions Lawn, which features a large gazebo.
Newmarket features so many top days of racing it is not an easy job to narrow down the list. We have given it our best shot however with the result being four truly exceptional options that take place throughout the flat racing season.
Newmarket has the honour of hosting the first major flat meeting of the season and what an occasion it is. The Guineas Festival feature two of Britain’s five Classic races, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas. As two of the most prestigious races in the world, some of the very best three-year-old colts and fillies compete for the historic prize.
Often it proves to be the platform for future success too with many true racing greats featuring on the list of former winners. It is a meet primarily focussed on top class racing but of course, the usual commitment to top-level hospitality applies.
Newmarket claim that summer simply is not summer without the July Festival. There are certainly many fans would agree with this as it is such a massive event, both on and off the course. In addition to the July Cup, one of the most prestigious sprint races in world racing, there is so much to enjoy when the horses are not in action.
Superb food and entertainment outlets are combined with a stunning array of fashion choices in what is truly a massive social occasion. This particularly applies to Ladies Day (Thursday), a glamorous affair that sees the best dressed ladies and gents claim some exquisite prizes.
Racing returns to the Rowley Mile course for the Cambridgeshire Meeting, signalling the end of the summer season at Newmarket. Across three days, the Cambridgeshire Meeting welcomes seven Group quality races so the standard of horses you will see is far higher than average. The Thursday and Friday of the festival are popular but, ultimately, it is the Saturday that pulls in the biggest numbers.
The reason for this is that not only are two Group 1 races on offer, but Saturday also sees the Cambridgeshire Heritage Handicap. This historic event always attracts a huge field, usually featuring at least 30 horses, making it a thrilling betting event full of big odds and the chance to land a handsome win if you can call it right.
Future Champions Festival
This stands as the penultimate big flat race meeting of the season, with Ascot’s prestigious Champions Day usually following a week later. It very much comes with a climatic atmosphere too as the two-day festival sees some of the leading two-year-old horses compete in some of the best races restricted to their age group. Given the abundance of Class 1 races, budding young horses have the chance to end the season on real high-note. For those that manage to impress, eyes will firmly be on them when they return from the winter break.
The massive amount of talent and further potential on display for this Future Champions Festival always draws in a very sizeable crowd. Given that it’s Newmarket’s last major event too (two smaller fixtures follow) there are few mid-autumn meets quite like this.
Although localised and more informal racing at Newmarket took place earlier on in the 17th century, 1666 is seen as its official birthday. This is because this year saw the inaugural running of the Newmarket Town Plate which was the first organised race featuring an official list of rules. These rules were determined by keen racing enthusiast King Charles II and because they had his seal of approval, they become universally binding. As a result, this is when ‘modern’ horse racing began at Newmarket and indeed they used this date when celebrating their 350th year anniversary in 2016.
Newmarket Town Plate
According to the rules, the Newmarket Town Plate had to take place on the second Thursday in October each year. King Charles II did actually ride a horse to a Plate win himself at Newmarket in 1675 but given that the race was in March, this could not have been the very same contest. During Newmarket’s early years, the Town Plate and the King’s Plate were the most valuable races to feature but then along came the 2,000 Guineas for colts in 1809 and the 1,000 Guineas (fillies) in 1814. The races, named after their initial prize fund, came with a very hefty purse. In today’s money the 2,000 Guineas was worth about £175,000.
The Change to Flat Racing
Jump forward a little and by 1840 Newmarket was a busy place, featuring seven annual meetings, several of which were week-long affairs. Excitable crowds headed to the course in their droves throughout year after year with people from all backgrounds in attendance. Spectators were able to watch National Hunt action at Newmarket later in the century but, by the early 20th century, the course reverted to just hosting flat racing.
Although much has changed at Newmarket over the centuries, more recently the construction of the Rowley Mile’s Millennium Grandstand in 2008, the course has not forgotten its past. That is why the Newmarket Town Plate, the race that started it all, and one King Charles II stated should run forever, still takes place today, albeit with much less significance.