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Along a quiet Suffolk, England country lane, Newmarket horses ride out to early work on the Heath. From the opening meeting of its flat-racing season in April to the weeklong Tattersall bloodstock sales in December, nothing matters at Newmarket but the racing and breeding of Thoroughbreds. The photographs on the following six pages record the life of a town celebrated for racing since King Charles II instituted the first cup race there in 1665 as-"a prize to be contested on the second Thursday in October forever. "It still is.
A string of horses files across Newmarket Heath through a thin blanket of morning mist. Top left, they gallop up Warren Hill, overlooking the town. Fifty stud farms flourish around Newmarket, and one of their foremost sires today is Acropolis, shown in formal portrait. Below that, stallions are at morning exercise in the leafy spring green of Egerton Stud. Hyperion, at bottom, six times England's champion sire, still dominates the entrance to Lord Derby's historical Woodlands Stud. Few horses have had as much influence on the breed as this mighty little chestnut.
Charles II loved Newmarket, and one of his houses, now the Rutland Arms (left), still stands in the High Street. Many trainers and jockeys have made Newmarket their home; Fred Archer, the outstanding 19th-century jockey, is buried here. Such is the fame of Newmarket boots and saddles that riders come from all over the world to be fitted. Racing silks, including the Queen's colors, are painstakingly sewn and harness made and repaired as they have been for 300 years.
On a racing day the grounds at Newmarket are reminiscent of a classic English landscape. The Tattersall sales are held in the chaste, serene interior of Park Paddocks.
FROM CHARLES TO ELIZABETH
More than 120 years ago Admiral Rous, late of the Royal Navy, said in testimony before a select committee set up by Parliament: "In my opinion, men of the highest integrity and the highest honor are members of the turf. When I come back to England, I can conceive it the most delightful society in the world, and there is no society equal to the society I meet at Newmarket."
In today's turbulent world, the gentle traditionalism of Newmarket is even more pronounced. The little East Anglian township, 70 miles northeast of London, with a population of 11,460 at the last census, has not changed essentially since the last half of the 17th century, when King Charles II and his courtiers regularly disported themselves there. True, the scene is not entirely the same. Most of the old buildings are gone—a house used by Charles still stands, but only vestiges of his palace—and the architecture of the town is redolent with depressing examples of mid-Victorian taste. But the straight Rowley Mile of Britain's most famous racetrack still exists, and across it runs the ancient landmark called the Devil's Dyke, an eight-mile welt of scar tissue cut across the flat landscape as a defensive rampart by either the Romans or a group of ancient Britons called Iceni.
Never mind who built it—the Dyke had been there 15 or 20 centuries when racing began at Newmarket during the reign of James I, albeit in James' day coursing and hawking were more important. The history of Newmarket as a racing center really dates from the era of Charles II, who would take his court (including his special favorite, Nell Gwyn) to course, hawk, hunt and race there each spring and autumn. Charles won numerous races on Newmarket Heath, and his nickname, Old Rowley, still survives in the official name of the straight mile (his courtiers called the king Old Rowley after a stallion in the royal mews).
Once firmly established in Newmarket, racing never lost its hold there, although during the 18th century it became obvious that some sort of supervision and control was needed. The Jockey Club, which sprang into being 200 years ago in a fashionable London coffee house, made its headquarters in Newmarket High Street, and the modern Jockey Club rooms stand there today.
The Earl of Derby has his Newmarket house and stables off the Bury Road, and nearby is his stud farm, with John Skeaping's splendid life-size statue of Hyperion. The Duke of Devonshire, whose ancestral racing silks of "straw" were among the first colors registered on the British turf, is an active Jockey Club steward.