|A visit to Newmarket is an experience in itself.|
The spirit of the stable is everywhere.
The Jockey Club is extremely conscious of its position as the ultimate authority of the racing world. It is conservative, exclusive and dignified.
To anyone who is sensitive to tradition, the place is teeming with associations. Take, for instance, "The Whip". It is alleged to have been given by Charles II. An unusual feature about it is the wristband which is woven from hairs taken from the tail of Eclipse. A hoof mounted on a gold salver is a companion relic presented by William IV. In themselves they are trifles, yet they preserve a link with the most celebrated horse in the history of the Turf. Think of a certain night two centuries ago on the Duke of Cumberland's breeding establishment at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. It was the night of the great eclipse of 1764, a night that had the country folk uneasy and apprehensive. During it, a mare foaled, and, not unexpectedly, the youngster was named Eclipse. The horse was not run in public until the age of five. A salesman bought him as a yearling in LeadenhaU Market for 75 guineas. He won his first race in May 1769 the commencement of a racing career in which he was never beaten, or even extended. At stud Eclipse was the sire of 335 winners, who won approximately 160,000 in stakes alone between the years 1774 and 1796. Fees from the horse's services as a stallion brought close on 25,000. In direct descent, a yearling filly realized 10,000 guineas... a racehorse in training was bought for 39,375... and two sires produced stock that won over half-a-mlllion sterling. No other English horse can claim such a record.
Another whip recalls the magnetic hands of Fred Archer, hands that guided 2,748 mounts past the winning-post. I like to think that this was the whip that delivered two ugly welts fifty yards from the post and goaded Melton to snatch the Derby from Paradox. But mental pictures soon give way to the genuine paintings that hang on the walls, where, in a few minutes, you range from the days when jockeys rode with long leathers to the present pulled-up stirrups. If I had to pin-point one canvas, I should plump for the painting by John Wotton. His subject was the dour puritanical gentleman named Tregonwell Frampton, the "Keeper of the Running Horses to their Sacred Majesties" during the reign of William and Mary, and trainer to Queen Anne, George I and George II. Had I to write his epitaph, I would have immortalized him as the first professional trainer and an intense woman-hater.
The streets of Newmarket are hardly romantic. No doubt it is a wealthy town, but, on the surface, it is dull and pedestrian. A few minutes' walk by the shops in an afternoon makes it hard to believe Macaulay's words: "It was not uncommon for the whole Court and Cabinet to go down there, posting in a single day." When Charles I. was reigning, Newmarket was literally the administrative capital of England. The streets were then alive with colour: "Jewellers, milliners, players and fiddlers, venal wits and venal beauties, learned doctors from Cambridge and fox-hunting squires with their rosy-cheeked daughters." Life in Newmarket in those days was far from dull. Any gambler would have been happy in the salon of the Duchess of Mazarin. It was accepted as an integral part of Court life and was noted for the attractiveness of this niece of Cardinal Mazarki. A rival attraction was the gambling-house run by Lady Castlemaine, another royal mistress of remarkable beauty. Pepys commented on it when he wrote in 1668: "I was told tonight that my Lady Castlemaine is so great a gamester as to have won 15,000 in one night, and lost 25,000 in another night, at play; and hath played 1,000 or 1,500 at a cast." I am afraid that anyone who wants entertainment on such a scale has arrived three centuries too late.
Newmarket Sales: A circle of potential bidders watched with discerning eye as a stable-lad led a thoroughbred racehorse into the ring. The auctioneer cajoled the first bid. Catalogues were studied to confirm the claim to equine aristocratic blood. The bidding starts with a surreptitious raising of a hand. An impassive wink cancels it out. A grimace raises the price even further. The eventual home of the horse trembles in the balance until the sharp crack of a tiny hammer closes the deal in incisive fashion.
There was a democratic breeziness about the crowds on the Heath for the big race. Those near the rails could hear the sound of thudding hoofs on yielding earth and clinking bits as the lord of the Turf, wide of nostril, went past with aristocratic grace. Somewhere in the distance a long, slender line was taking shape. Thousands of tongues were silent. The tension was tangible.
Then came the exciting moment when the bookmakers were silenced by the shout... "They're off!" It was a cry of expectancy that rose in crescendo as the line took shape. The huddled jockeys came into closer view, resplendent in vivid colours, borne like a wave of silk against a background of thundering hoofs. The roar increased in volume as the horses came by the stands, until finally the incoherent torrent of sound took shape and formed the name of the winner.