Compared to other countries and sports like NFL in the US, there is so much history to our sport. Newmarket has two racecourses, the Rowley Mile, which is the older of the two, and the July Course. ‘Old Rowley’ was a stallion belonging to King Charles II, who was a passionate horse racing enthusiast and spent much of his time – too much, in the eyes of Parliament – in Newmarket. Indeed, the ‘Merry Monarch’, as he was popularly known, was largely responsible for the development of the town as a national centre for horse racing.
Away from the racecourse, Charles II was a notorious womaniser, with a string of mistresses, of which Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn was probably the most famous. All told, he fathered 14 illegitimate children and his scandalous liaisons were seized upon by wits of the day, who ridiculed the King by nicknaming him ‘Old Rowley’ or simply ‘Rowley’, in reference to the aforementioned stallion. Old Rowley, the stallion, was ‘renowned for the number and beauty of its offspring’, so the joke was that, in terms of his own prowess, the King was not unlike his nicknamesake. Nevertheless, Charles II was a popular monarch in his day and, in 2017, a statue of him was unveiled at Newmarket Racecourse to celebrate 350 years of racing at his favourite venue.
Royal Ascot is, of course, a highlight of the British sporting and social calendar. Remarkably, though, as recently as 1999, the Royal Meeting featured just three highest category, Group One races. Those races were the St. James’s Palace Stakes, Gold Cup and Coronation Stakes.
However, in the interim, several races have gained, or regained, Group One status and, in 2015, Royal Ascot was extended from four days to five to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. At that point, a new Group One race, the Commonwealth Cup, run over six furlongs and restricted to three-year-olds, was added to the programme, making a total of eight in all.
In addition to the aforementioned races, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes was upgraded to Group One status in 2000, as were the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, formerly the Cork & Orrery Stakes, in 2002 and the Queen Anne Stakes in 2003. In 2005, the King’s Stand Stakes, which had previously held Group One status between 1973 and 1988, before being downgraded, became part of the so-called ‘Global Sprint Challenge’. As such, the five-furlong contest attracted a strong international entry, as a result of which it was upgraded to Group One status again in 2008.
In the summer of 2014, Jockey Club Racecourses, which owns Warwick Racecourse, announced that, from 2015 onwards, only National Hunt fixtures would be staged at the picturesque West Midlands venue. While not quite going full circle, Warwick was, in fact, the first British racecourse to include a hurdle race in its programme, as recorded in the Racing Calendar, in 1831.
Established in its current location in 1707, in recent years Warwick Racecourse has been better known for its National Hunt races, especially steeplechases, in any case. Seasonal highlights include the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase, run over 2 miles in February, and the Grade 3 Classic Chase, run over 3 miles 5 furlongs in January; the latter serves as a trial for the Grand National.
Ian Renton, Regional Director at the Jockey Club, said that Warwick could ‘now benefit from a clear identity’ but, following the fatal fall of Artful Lady in a six-furlong handicap in May, 2014, racecourse officials had already said that they had ‘lost confidence’ in portions of the Flat course. Veteran National Hunt trainer Nicky Henderson described Warwick as the home of ‘good, competitive jumps racing’ and welcomed the Jockey Club Racecourses’ decision as ‘a huge benefit’ to the sport.
The simple answer is yes, it did. In the latter years of the nineteenth century, on what is now the Links National Hunt Training Grounds, Colonel Harry McCalmont, who owned the Cheveley Park Estate, laid out a steeplechase course. The first meeting at the course took place on November 29, 1894 and the last on December 28, 1905, three years after the death of McCalmont. Principal races during that period included the Newmarket Grand Military Cup, the Cheveley Cup and the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, which would later become a fixture of the National Hunt Meeting at Cheltenham.
Although not in Newmarket itself, National Hunt meetings were staged in the nearby village of Moulton from February 20, 1863 onwards. After a lengthy hiatus, National Hunt racing was revived, albeit briefly, on land owned by Captain James Machell, five miles from Newmarket, in 1879. The two-day meeting, staged on March 20 and March 21, featured the Lanwades Hunters’ Chase and the Trainers’ and Jockey Club Cup, both run over three miles. Thereafter, National Hunt lapsed again until returning, on a more permanent basis, in Newmarket 15 years later.
Machell, though, would find further fame as an owner and trainer of Grand National winners. He owned and trained the 1873 and 1874 winners, Disturbance and Reugny, and owned the 1876 winner, Regal.