Welcome to Dettori Town

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It’s 6.30am on Newmarket Heath and the daily ritual of rise, ride, compete, repeat is in full swing. Hundreds of hooves thump up the horizon on Warren Hill and tiptoe down towards town following such luminous names as Frankel, Frankie and Piggott. Names that transcend the sport of kings and land in living rooms on television screens through the flying dismount and the gunslinging walk. Winners, thousands of them, are worked out on the Heath every morning. Seeing it for myself, the sense of excitement is electric and contagious. Moving among the mud and money makes you feel strangely alive. I am just minutes into my day in Newmarket and I already feel lucky. As a novice in the world of racing, I take that as a good sign.

Newmarket is a glorious global anomaly. A small Suffolk market town, 15 miles from Cambridge, that just happens to be the centre of the horseracing world. Imagine the greatest footballers, clubs and coaches in the world turning out for training in one place, every day, and being able to see them in action. If that wasn’t enough then imagine the Football Association being located on the high street – opposite the local pub - and the sale of the best young players in the world taking place every year at an auction room which backs onto the lawn bowls club. If you can picture all that then welcome to Newmarket, or as it should probably be known now, Detorri Town.

At last count, there were 3,000 horses in training here, human residents, including Frankie and his family, live with or among them. Pubs have fibreglass horses on their roofs and it feels like every other house has a hidden yard or stable. Even the town’s traffic lights have been adapted to be controlled by, you’ve guessed it, the horses. 

Warren Hill (heath) winter

Ever since James I adopted the Heath for racing in 1605, horses have been in charge here. Four centuries later the Heath is still the centre of everything and one way to get you closer to the riders, the horses and the history is join the behind the scenes tours run by Discover Newmarket. 

Our Discover Newmarket guide Larry is a one man racing stat pack, former jockey, passionate horseman and as it turns out, king of stable yard banter. At just after 9am, we are standing in the middle of the hallowed Heath, which is usually out of bounds to the public. As each set of yard rides goes past Larry is there to help welcome them and to relentlessly try and tease out a tip or two. He is surprisingly successful. Our private tour feasts on the titbits thrown to us from the saddles before we move to our next pre-race meeting adventure.

From the top of the hill we descend to the royal palace hidden off the high street. Charles II, who spent time in France, returned to England feverishly in favour of horse racing and in 1671 built a sporting palace in the middle of Newmarket. It was shortly after his era too that the Jockey Club Rooms, just down the road, was also founded. The remainder of Charles’s palace is now part of a five-acre site that links three attractions each of which would be a welcome addition to any city in the UK. 

The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art is full of gold cups, old cups, racing simulators and silks. Taking visitors from the royal beginnings through to the modern day via impressive videos and interactive displays. And of course, sharing the sport’s many stories such as the 18th century text savvy horse named Pot8os, and the 1930s trackside tipster Prince Monolulu whose colourful clothes and catch phrase of “I gotta horse” made him popular with the public, like an early version of our very own Larry.

While you are there it is well worth refuelling on the moreish menu in The Tack Room, under the watchful gaze of a bronze statue of Frankel, the stallion rated as the best racehorse in the world. 

With the first race looming we duck through into Rothschild Yard and meet the horses who have been there and done it. Winners on their way to a new life after racing. I got to meet Our Vic, a beautiful chestnut who after chewing a bit of the fence and letting me rub his nose, definitely winked at me. A winner giving me the eye. Surely luck was on my side?

We leave Our Vic and friends and cross to what remains of Charles II’s Palace House, which now houses a national collection of racing and sporting art. The Heath features many times and its strange to think just moments earlier we stood where Kings once did centuries before doing the same thing - watching the gallops, hoping for a sign, looking for a tip, wanting to be lucky.

Racegoers by the Finishing Post at the Adnams July Course

The final stop for our tour is at the only place in the UK that allows the public behind the scenes of a working Thoroughbred stud farm, The National Stud. Studs complete the journey from wannabe to winner to highly sought after sire commanding a sizeable fee for the politely named, covering. Where the bloodlines from founding stallions, the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and Godolphin Arabian collide and future champions are made.

Top stallions command top fees. We are told that Frankel’s owners are rumoured to charge nearly £175,000 for four minutes of his finest post-race work. “I now know what you men want to come back as,” says our brilliant guide Char. We don’t set eyes on Frankel today – he is enjoying his retirement at Juddmonte Farms under tight security, although if you book a Frankel Tour you can get to meet him. We meet Bahamian Bounty, one of Dettori’s past mounts and a veteran of the National Stud who has been in action here for 18 years. He’s sired a number of champions and as Char tells us, has a record covering of under a minute. The women in the group nod knowingly at this fact as the men avoid eye contact.

Enable and Frankie Dettori winning LArc

Before we know it, it’s time to go racing on the Rowley Mile - Newmarket is the only place in the world with two racecourses. To put everything we have seen and been told into action. Being a behind the scenes experience our tickets allow us access to the parade ring and weighing room and I’m starting to think this might be the only way to go racing in the future.

Maybe it was the early start. Maybe it was Larry and his tips. Maybe it was magic of walking the Heath in the footsteps of kings and queens. Perhaps even the wink from my old friend Our Vic or just the general accumulation of the knowledge I now owned in a morning I will never forget, but that afternoon’s racing was my most successful ever.

Best Western Heath Court Tipsters BarBack at the Best Western Heath Court’s aptly named Tipster’s Bar that evening, surrounded by well-known racing journalists, regular race goers in loosened ties and top buttons, there was a nodding, knowing appreciation of what we had all been through. Just one day in Dettori Town had turned me from novice to champion.

That’s the kind of form we racing experts love. 


For more information about Newmarket and to book a behind the scenes tour visit:

  • Short Head Tour – From £55 per person
  • Race Day Tour – From £130 per person

Imagery - Palace House, Newmarket | Mark Atkins

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