DIARY – VISIT TO NEWMARKET
THE NATIONAL STUD AND PALACE HOUSE NATIONAL
HERITAGE CENTRE FOR HORSERACING AND SPORTING ART
TUESDAY 24 JULY 2018
Beautiful filly foal at the National Stud
The National Stud:
Palace House National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art:
My Scottish friend and regular Aintree Festival companion, Sandra, had arranged to stay with her friend in Bedford for a few days. Sandra had suggested we visit Newmarket’s Palace House National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art whilst she was in the locality and, latterly, I’d mooted the idea of paying a visit to the National Stud on the same day; thus ‘killing two birds with one stone’ so to speak!
The two most suitable days for the Suffolk trip were a Monday or a Tuesday … so, having discovered the National Stud was open for tours on both a Monday and Tuesday during the school holidays, although not on these two days of the week during term-time, I pre-booked two tickets online via Discover Newmarket for Tuesday 24 July. The tour has to be pre-booked and cost £11 per ticket.
The weather had been unseasonably warm and dry, even for July, with no rain spotted in my home City for around one month. In fact the heat-wave had begun in late June, causing wildfires in parts of the UK, along with hosepipe bans. It was almost 1976 all over again! A number of plants in my garden had died through lack of rain – a box tree, a rhododendron and a Pieris Forest Flame which had been in the garden for many years. The two water-butts had also run dry; the contents having been used to water a number of plants which don’t like tap-water. The lawn was so sunburnt that it crunched underfoot; never mind, grass always springs back to life once rain arrives.
The day before our visit to Suffolk, the highest temperature of the summer so far – 33 degrees – had been recorded in the county. Summer-themed clothing would be the order of the day – I chose my neon blue jeggings, a flower-patterned Per Una shirt with cream-coloured background and deep pink/coral-coloured roses, also with green and beige flowers/foliage. I wore a soft coral-coloured camisole vest underneath. I also put on a grey Per Una long-line knitted waistcoat; it was very thin fabric.
I wore my brown Footglove ankle boots for the stud visit and my grey Hotter Aura shoes for the remainder of the afternoon. I also wore a pair of M&S alpaca design socks! My handbag was a Defea design ‘Graphic print’ Kipling one in blue/black/gold/white.
I set my alarm for 05:30 on Tuesday morning but, in the event, woke at 05:10. Having showered, washed and dried my hair and applied minimal makeup, I ate a breakfast of Weetabix and fruit. I had arranged to meet Sandra outside Bedford East Midlands/Thameslink station at around 09:00, so I cadged a lift to the St Albans City station, arriving there just after 08:00.
The Thameslink service had been severely affected since a new timetable was introduced in May 2018. In fact the current timetable was a revision of a revised timetable. In other words, the third attempt at a workable one.
There are three northbound trains between 07:54 and 08:02, although the last of these terminates at Luton. The next train to Bedford departs at 08:25! Which means there are no northbound trains from the City station at the peak of the rush-hour for a period of 23 minutes, and it’s an even longer wait if you wish to travel to the neighbouring town of Harpenden … what is that all about?
Having bought a return ticket, which being during peak hours cost £23.90, I caught the 8:25 train calling at Luton Airport Parkway, Luton, Flitwick and Bedford. There are always plenty of seats on the northbound train service, unlike the cramped conditions on the southbound ones to London during the rush-hour.
Having paused at Luton station, I sent a text message to Sandra to say I expected to arrive at 09:00. It took three attempts; the final one after I’d turned the phone off and on again. Sandra later told me she’d received the message twice.
The train passed through a tunnel between Flitwick (pronounced with a silent ‘w’) and Bedford. Flitwick station is the drop-off point for visitors to Center Parcs Woburn Forest. Closer to Bedford there were a number of flooded ‘workings’; I presume these were former brick pits, the town being famous for the manufacture of building bricks. The two huge green Cardington airship hangars were also visible.
The train pulled into the station, and I walked back along the platform to reach the footbridge which would lead me to the ticket-hall and station entrance. New passengers boarded the train, it was a quick turnaround to head back to London and beyond – Thameslink trains terminate at Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Littlehampton, East Grinstead, Orpington, Rainham in Kent; also a circuit passing through Sutton. I’d love to go to Littlehampton for the day … if I could be sure of a return train being available with the current timetable cancellations and other issues, such as point failures and trees falling onto overhead cables!
I headed through the turnstiles and ticket-hall. There was a queue all the way out of the door; families waiting to buy tickets ahead of their journey – after all it was the school holidays. I walked along to a space between the taxi rank and private vehicles, adjacent to the motorcycle/bicycle park. Sandra arrived and drove around the perimeter route in order to pick me up.
We took a right out of the station onto Ashburnham Road, then a left and a right, enabling us to stay on the A5141. Latterly it crossed the Great Ouse River and at the subsequent T-junction we turned left. We entered a one-way system shortly afterwards, having waited at a red-light for a lady to cross the road. At the next T-junction we turned right, in order to head down St John’s Street; this was also one-way. Having reached a roundabout we turned left then, at the following one, right to continue southbound along Cardington Road. We passed Tesco’s, and subsequently travelled alongside the Great Ouse.
Finally we arrived at the roundabout beneath the A421, took the slip-road onto said dual carriageway and continued until we reached the A1; this was the Black Cat roundabout, denoted by a large black metal cat sited on the traffic island. This small section of the route was familiar territory from my days, back in 2008 and 2009, of travelling to and from Huntingdon and Market Rasen racecourses.
Having travelled a short distance on the northbound carriageway, at Wyboston we took a slip-road to the left, which swung right latterly to take us over the A1 and, at the next roundabout a right-hand turn took us onto the A428 as it skirted Eaton Socon and St Neots. We continued upon this A-road as it wended its way through the countryside, latterly forming the beginning of the Cambridge northern bypass.
Not long afterwards we entered a contra-flow section. There was a very strange pillared construction over the eastbound carriageway; it resembled a Greek temple! I presume this is part of the new Girton interchange; the A14 heads in from the northwest and the M11 from the south. In fact the A428 transforms into the A14 at this point, with the latter designated road now acting as the Cambridge northern bypass.
As we wanted to travel into Newmarket, we subsequently headed off onto the A1303, rather than continue along the bypass that heads around the northern perimeter of the Suffolk town. Having passed the Equine Hospital on the right, and an entrance leading to racecourse car parks on the left, we encountered a large roundabout with a statue of a rearing horse being held by a stable-lad. We took the first exit and, shortly afterwards to the left of the road, encountered tall metal gates; these opened automatically to allow admittance. Just beyond this gateway was the July Course’s Gate 1.
We headed down the driveway, talking the right-hand fork in order to enter the car park. The car in front of us had taken the left-hand option, in order to park in the disabled area outside the Wavertree’s Coffee Shop. There were three or four vehicles already parked and, having sorted out our footwear and bags, we headed through a gap in the hedge.
The first building we encountered was the Weatherby’s pavilion; this was the studio of local artist Chris Winch. The pavilion was adjacent to Wavertree’s Coffee and Gift Shop. We took a brief look around the shop area before, eventually, purchasing hot drinks; Sandra bought a hot chocolate and I bought a large mocha. Whilst waiting for our drinks, the lady who would take us on the Stud tour arrived and began ticking off the attendees’ names from her list.
We were ready to go at 11:15; at which point we went to board the small bus which was parked outside. I think there were eight of us on the tour. The guide explained that the buildings opposite were the quarantine area for newly arrived mares. We headed past a small housing area to our left, before we turned right to head down a driveway situated between race-day car parking areas.
At the far end we passed through a line of trees, before turning left. Our guide explained that the strip of grass to our right is used once a year for the Newmarket Town Plate, which was first run in 1666, and takes place at the end of the summer, when the July Course is no longer in use. It is run over a distance longer than the Grand National. We had to wait for two or three vehicles to pass by on the narrow driveway. The roadway subsequently crossed the ‘course’; she explained that this was covered with turf whilst the race was in progress.
This ‘third racecourse’, which is known as the Round Course, bears right further along, before a sharp right turn adjacent to the Newmarket bypass road. This is where it joins the July and Rowley Mile courses, with the amateur race following the course of the former all the way to the winning post. The business end of the National Stud lies within this Round Course circuit.
We headed down a tree-lined driveway to reach the Stallions area. With the mating season over for this year, the current stallions had been turned out in their individual paddocks. There were just three stallions on show today – the grey Gregorian, bay Marcel and bay Aclaim. In July 2018 there were five standing at the Stud in total, with Spill The Beans and Time Test currently in quarantine ahead of a journey to Australia and New Zealand respectively, to service Southern Hemisphere mares during their spring season.
Spill The Beans’ home stud is in Australia and he ‘reversed shuttled’ to Newmarket for our mating season; whereas The National Stud is Time Test’s home and he would be heading off for a ‘working holiday’ in New Zealand!
Having parked up beneath a tree, we alighted to take a closer look at the three stallions. Being a hot day and nearing mid-day too, the horses were all standing in the shade within their individual paddocks. Gregorian, who had initially been hiding in the field-shelter, did appear but remained close to it.
Aclaim stayed in the shade too, to the side of his enclosure. Marcel was ‘hiding’ behind wooden boarding at the corner of his paddock. Although we weren’t allowed to touch them regardless, being ‘nippy’ stallions, none were curious enough to move from the shade; I don’t blame them really!
We headed back via the statue of Mill Reef; the 1971 Derby winner stood at the Stud for many years, having recovered from a broken leg sustained on the gallops.
We walked across to take a look in one of the stallion boxes; the occupier’s pedigree is displayed on the upper section of the stable door. We also took a look inside the mating barn. The mares came in via the far entrance, the stallions from the boxes side. The foal at foot is not separated from the mare during the mating, but held within the barn. An area of the barn was built-up … just in case the thoroughbred stallion is too short to mount a big mare! Our guide also explained the role of the ‘Teaser’; however, the teaser isn’t totally frustrated as he does get to mate with a variety of ponies, etc!
Finally, we headed across to see the graves of former stallion inmates. These included Never Say Die (Derby winner in 1954), who I saw when I visited the Stud in the early 70’s. Also Tudor Melody (champion 2-year-old in 1958) – I remember him from my previous visit too. There were also headstones for Mill Reef, Silver Patriarch, Royal Palace, Relkino, Moorestyle and Suave Dancer. Our guide explained that the latter died young, having been struck by lightning.
Since the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, it has been illegal to bury horses; the disease affects cloven-hoofed animals, but horses can be carriers.
We boarded the coach once more and headed around via the foaling box area; there were four mares in a nearby paddock – evidently they were in-foal Southern Hemisphere visitors, who would be mated with local stallions once their foals were on the ground. Evidently a number would be paying a visit to Frankel. The Stud boards transient mares; it’s a hotel when other studs don’t provide accommodation for visiting mares.
Our guide explained that foals are usually born at night, when it is less likely for predators to find a foal before it’s managed to gain its feet. The Stud doesn’t have a resident vet, as the Equine Hospital is just a five-minute drive away.
We were seeking the mares with foals, and we found two adjacent paddocks thereof. Being a hot day, a number of the foals were lying down and, initially, the mares and foals seemed disinterested. We headed up to a third paddock, but the horses were too far away. Eventually, a lovely bay mare came across to the fence of the middle paddock, along with her beautiful filly foal.
Members of our group headed down the track-way between the paddocks and further mares and foals came over to see us. The four mares and their foals in the adjacent field also walked over to the fence. There was a grey mare and brownish foal. The guide explained that, often, foals registered as brown turned out to be grey in the end! The grey mare and foal were a hit with our group, but one of the mares was a little grumpy; her foal was a Frankel colt!
The foals were in mixed groups currently but, as soon as they are weaned, the colts and fillies would go their separate ways and live in same sex groups; colts become ‘frisky’ very young!
Having got back into the coach once more, we were driven back to the area in front of the Café. On the way, we passed three weaned foals in a paddock, along with a number of mares in a field close to the racecourse parking area. Having arrived back, we visited the café once more, the gift shop in particular. Sandra bought a fridge magnet; I purchased a canvas shopping bag with National Stud printed on the side, always useful to store balls of wool in!
There was food available to purchase at the Café’ but we intended to travel into Newmarket to visit the Palace House National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art. Being late July, wasps were now buzzing around; one took a liking to us as we sorted out our bags and changed into more comfortable shoes. I hate wasps, but I didn’t scream; I becoming more chilled about them in my old age!
Having exited the car park and driven up the driveway, we waited briefly for the automatic gates to open; we then turned right to head back to the ‘rearing horse and lad’ roundabout. Our Stud guide had explained that the statues had been created by two different people; presumably one specialising in horses, the other in people. We took the first exit off the roundabout, onto the A1304 into Newmarket; the July and Rowley Mile racecourses were on our left. Just before the High Street begins, there is a statue of The Queen with a mare and foal. Further on, signposted to the right, was Tattersalls.
I’m not quite sure what I expected, but the town itself wasn’t what I had imagined. The road headed slightly downhill towards a roundabout, upon which stood the Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock Tower. We were actually looking for the long-stay car park in All Saints Road; we continued to the end and did an 360 degree turn around the clock tower, then took the first left into Rous Road. The residential road was extremely narrow due to parked cars, and we had to wait for a number of vehicles to drive by in the opposite direction before we could proceed. We passed the short-stay car park, before turning right just before the road swung left. Shortly afterwards we reached Lisburn Road where we turned left and headed to a T-junction with Vicarage Road.
We took a right, and headed past the Palace House car park entrance for coaches. We continued along Vicarage Road, before turning right into All Saints Road; further along, on the left, was the long-stay car park. Having parked up, I went to buy a ticket - £1.80 covered us for up to four hours; we arrived at 13:15. In fact it more than covered us, because parking was free after 16:00! Palace House closed at 17:00.
Exiting onto All Saints Road, we turned left to walk past All Saints Church, taking a right into Palace Street at the cross-roads. It was just a short walk to the entrances. The Trainer’s House and Rothschild yard were to the right hand-side, Palace House itself on the left.
We headed into Palace House to pay our entry fee; the guy at the reception desk explained the location of each of the exhibits and attached a neon pink band to each of our bags to prove that we’d paid our entrance fee. Our main priority was lunch, so we headed across to The Tack Room café; there were seating areas inside and out. We spent a penny, before settling down to lunch at a table for two just inside the sliding glass doors.
We both ordered fish and chips; Sandra had a diet coke and I had a glass of cloudy apple juice. Following lunch, we headed to the Rothschild Yard, hoping to see the RoR horse exhibits. Presently in situ were Starluck, he was now a flea-bitten grey colour, Our Vic, Purple Moon and a newbie named Mulk; the latter had retired young, having sustained a knee injury. Sire De Grugy had spent a couple of months at the Palace House, but had returned home the previous Thursday … so we missed him. L
There was supposed to be a RoR arena demonstration twice a day, at 11:30 and 14:30. However, there wasn’t one on this particular afternoon, which was disappointing. A small group of people, which included us, were taken into the onsite forge by our guide, although restoration hasn’t been completed yet. Starluck and Mulk had been put on the horse-walker, and we paid them a visit before we headed to the arena; it was being used by a young girl riding a pony, doing dressage. The arena is loaned to outsiders.
Our guide spoke about the RoR organisation and their aims when re-training racehorses. The Rothschild yard can house up to eight horses, although there were only four in residence when we visited. Clare Balding and AP McCoy are patrons of RoR; Richard Johnson, Frankie Dettori and Guy Disney are ambassadors.
A coach load of visitors, from the Elite Racing Club, had arrived too; they had already visited the arena area prior to heading back to the Rothschild Yard. Starluck and Purple Moon had been brought out of their stables to meet everyone. I overheard the Elite Racing crowd talking about their former syndicate filly Marsha, who had been sold for a huge sum as a broodmare at the end of her racing career; the horses are owned by Elite Racing, not the syndicate members. They seemed happy with their Racing Club, although I do recall a member voicing their dissatisfaction via social media with regard to the direction the Club was currently taking.
We took a look around the RoR galleries, before heading back into the King’s Yard Galleries which house, amongst other things, an equicizer. I might have had a go, had it not been for my ongoing pelvis issue.
We then headed across the road to Palace House itself; it houses British sporting art. We started on the second floor, wandering through a network of rooms, viewing paintings. I liked only one, a Munnings mare and foal! Having looked at the paintings on the first floor too, we headed back across the road to the shop situated within the Trainer’s House. We continued our tour of the museum area, adjacent to the shop, before visiting the loo … in the dungeon. We left at 16:50 and walked back to the car park to collect the car.
There are two entrances to the long-stay car park, so we exited via the other entrance, onto Park Lane. Having taken a left, we subsequently took a right-hand turn into Warrington Street. At the far end we turned right onto The Avenue. Shortly afterwards we passed the enormous Tattersalls complex; Choc regularly visits here, to buy and sell, because he’s Apple Tree Stud’s Manager and Racing Manager.
The Avenue meets the High Street at a traffic-light controlled junction; we turned left to begin our journey home from Newmarket.
We retraced our route along the A1304 and A1303, followed by the A14. On the way back, there were a couple of guys playing on their diggers at the Girton interchange ... boys and their toys!
We continued along the A428 before joining the A1 for a short distance and turning onto the A421 at the Black Cat roundabout. The satnav took us to the western outskirts of Bedford; we passed the giant green Cardington hangars on the way. We skirted Kempston as we headed north, again on the A428. There was prolific house-building going on in the area. Eventually we took a right onto the A4280 to head back into Bedford itself. There were a number of impressive houses along this stretch of the road.
Further on we turned right in order to enter Ashburnham Road; Bedford Thameslink/East Midlands station is situated on this road, to the right-hand side when travelling in a southbound direction. Sandra dropped me off in the short-stay car park just before 18:30 and I headed into the station to catch a train. I was fortunate, there was a train waiting on the nearest platform, ready to set off in less than five minutes. Once aboard, I walked down the corridor until I found a suitable seat; in hindsight, it having been a very hot day, I should probably have sat on the shady side of the train!
It was an all-stations service to St Albans; Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, Luton Airport Parkway and Harpenden in between. I arrived back in St Albans at around 19:10, and walked home.