First of all, if you’re interested in horse racing or even just love horses, you absolutely must visit Newmarket. Before my trip I had only ever been to take Grumeti to Rossdales vets, so didn’t really appreciate just how imprinted horse racing is on the town.
Racehorses are the life of Newmarket, with miles and miles of tracks, purposefully designed for the horses in training. I repeatedly found myself thinking of Newmarket town as the heart of horse racing. With the tracks being the veins and arteries, transporting the bloodstream (the horses).
Without Newmarket, horse racing wouldn’t be the same and without horse racing, Newmarket wouldn’t be the same either. Each one needs the other to thrive.
I really couldn’t have been more lucky with the people I met in my time in Newmarket, with Phil Mcentee as the ultimate tour guide and a true gentleman, then on to meet Rob Speers – Bloodstock manager for Mr. V.I Araci, John Berry – trainer and previous mayor of Newmarket, and then the inspiring Amy Murphy.
Phil Mcentee – Happy horses, mud and tours of the town.
I arrived in Newmarket at a pitch black 6:30am, to meet Phil and his daughter, apprentice jockey, Grace at their Hamilton Road yard, to ride out with them. Phil’s yard is currently home to 21 horses, ran by a small team of 4/5 including Phil himself.
Phil’s yard is the smallest of the yards I’ve visited so far and is the first yard I’ve visited that trains predominantly flat racers. With this comes a very different type of horse and a different atmosphere.
Horse wise they have anything from yearlings, to older horses that have been sold on when they haven’t performed well for previous connections.
Phil’s yard is a real family operation, the team are father, daughter and friends, with the horses treated like pets. Yes, they are trained and they have a job to do, but they are loved, played with and fussed over in a way that really reminds me of how I am with my own horses. There’s really not many yards that would clip a love heart into their horses coat is there?
I think it’s this relaxed environment, with the horses allowed to turn out in ‘Glastonbury’ together, roll, splash, play and get generally filthy, that helps the horses in Phil’s care to find a new lease of life and freshen up to their work.
Another thing to note with Phil Mcentee’s yard is that he has the facilities to house and train 40 horses, but prefers to work with lower numbers to provide this environment for his horses and so as he can keep the family and friends dynamic of the small team on his yard. I think that speaks volumes in itself, in an industry where it would be easy to get greedy and cut corners, people like Phil are constantly looking out for the best interests of their horses and staff.
Phil then went absolutely above and beyond for me on my visit. After riding out, washing the horses off, having some breakfast and a chat, he then took the role as the ultimate tour guide and drove me around Newmarket, talking me through the amazing facilities all over the town and sharing the stories that lie around every corner.
Training horses in Newmarket.
So for those that haven’t visited Newmarket, what is it that makes it such an amazing place to train racehorses?
Well, the town is split into two sides and the Jockey Club Estates maintain 2500 acres of training grounds across the towns, with over 14 miles of gallop and canter tracks on artificial surfaces, as well as the miles of turf gallops that are rotated every day throughout the year, to ensure they stay in top condition. As well as this there are schooling facilities on both turf and all weather surface, for the use of National Hunt Trainers in the town.
The towns gallops really vary in length and gradient, ensuring the towns trainers can really tailor their horses work loads, I can only imagine how beneficial this is to horses that need extra work for their fitness, or that enjoy the change in environments to keep them fresh in their work.
To get a better idea on these facilities, check out the Jockey Club Estates website.
These facilities are such an asset to trainers in the town and it varies hugely to what other trainers will have on their own private yards. For example Fergal O’Brien is doing amazing things out of his stunning yard which has a 4.5furlong uphill gallop, a 3 furlong circular deep sand and a 1.5 furlong schooling strip, which is already a huge range of facilities for a private yard.
With all of this I can see why smaller scale trainers such as Phil would base themselves in Newmarket. It’s unrivaled facilities, 350 years of horse training history, proximity to multiple racecourses and a real sense of community, it really is a truly unique place.
A recurring theme.
With the pieces I write, I generally realise a theme on visiting the yards and write the blog posts around the theme of what I felt. But with my visit to Newmarket I didn’t know where the theme would come from and what the thread would be that would stitch together the various people that I met. But as ever, this thread was discovered for me and it started with Phil Mcentee, then weaved itself through seamlessly. And that theme is ‘passion’.
It is clear that to work with horses on any level, you have to have passion. But on talking to Phil Mcentee I began to see how deep that has to run to get to where you want to be in this sport. Phil spoke so freely of his love for the horses and how his daughter Grace had then found the love of the sport too.
Grace grew up with horses, riding in pony club, show jumping and eventing, before deciding to set her focus to racing and becoming an apprentice jockey. Phil spoke about how this, for him, as a father had its ups and downs.
He’s able to help his daughter, with rides, contacts, horses, facilities and knowledge that can help her on her journey. But for him the downside is the sacrifice that female jockeys have to make to have a continued successful career in the sport.
It is a sport that needs you to be in peak fitness, it involves risk and to get the best rides, you need to be consistent. Early mornings, late nights and hard physical work in a high risk environment are not things that work hand in hand with becoming a mother and no matter how much we drive equality into horse racing, the choice between becoming a parent and staying fit and consistent, is not something that male jockeys will ever have to make.
As someone who doesn’t want to have children, this isn’t something that has ever occured to me before, but for young women such as Grace, there has to be some level of consideration into what kind of life you want to live and whether your passion for the horses and the sport comes first.
The passion and dedication is something I have felt and seen through all of my visits to race meetings and race yards and it’s something I shall touch on further in my next posts from my trip to Newmarket.
But for now I will wrap up, to save you from reading an incredibly long ramble and you can read the next installment from my trip to Newmarket here.
And as ever thank you to everyone who reads my blog, sends kind messages and donates (through my ‘About‘ page) to help me keep doing this. It means a lot and I love spreading the message of how much these horses mean to the people that look after them in racing and after. An extra big thank you to Phil & Grace for being such great hosts.
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