Although the hardiest of the Mudders and Turfers had proceeded from Tuesday evening's Indian restaurant dinner directly to another local establishment in order to down a pint or two of Guinness (and other fine English or Irish brews) in attempt to build up strength for the following day, the extra strength apparently must have worn off during the night. For when Wednesday morning rolled around at the St. James Court and it was time to head out for McChump Industries' Enhancement Event #2 of this particular Mudders and Turfers tour, the ultra-cool black London taxi that swung around Buckingham Palace on its way to the King's Cross train station sported a group of passengers in the back seat that numbered substantially less than two.
The previous year, on the way to visit Sheikh Maktoum's horses at John Gosden's yard outside Newmarket, I'd noticed a beautiful bronze statue of Hyperion standing in a little yard off the Newmarket high street. And then on the way back to the track, I'd noticed a little gate with a sign above it that read "National Horse Racing Museum". But the big luxurious Mudders and Turfers bus wasn't makin' no extra stops that day, so the National Horse Racing Museum faded in the rear window. But the small and not nearly so luxurious McChump Racing Tour had remembered, and had returned, like a cut-rate MacArthur. And this time, it was a-stoppin'.
And so, after about a two hour train ride from London that included an exciting episode of learning to use an automated ticket machine under pressure in order to effect a split-second transfer from one train line to another back there in some little town north of Cambridge, the Newmarket platform hove into sight: a plain, unimposing platform, on a small hill above the town proper, shielded from the town by a red brick, ivy covered fence. No signs at the train station said where the center of town was or anything, but I could distinctly recall the high street as being in (oddly) kind of a low part of town, so I struck downhill from the station, through the quiet residential neighborhood in which it is located, right past a yard that's used for unloading horses from the train. After a turn in the street and a short hike down a perfectly ordinary looking street I happened on the Tattersalls sales yard, and thought yep, I must be getting closer. Just a block or so later and viola! The High Street. Turns out it's only maybe 1/2 mile from the train station. And then the Horse Racing Museum is only another block. What a great country England is - take the train to anywhere and then just a short walk.
Since I wasn't quite ready to go into the Museum yet I decided I'd take a little hike up the high street of this quaint, ancient little town to see what I could see, and mostly what I could see was lots and lots of touristy looking shops trading on the horse racing aspect of Newmarket, such as the sweets shop I stopped in that sold clotted cream toffee with all sorts of horse racing pictures all over the cover of the box. Horses and horsemen, apparently, are keen on clotted cream toffee. After a trip up to the end of the street where there was a traffic circle with a big monument/clock tower in the middle of it, and a saunter down the other side of the street to see what was there (more racing-oriented tourist shops, as well as some cheese shops), including scouting for a likely spot for lunch and a pint later, it was time to finally enter the object of this particular visit: The National Horse Racing Museum.
Admission: £3.50 (I think)
This isn't a huge museum, by any stretch of the imagination, occupying a suite of rooms in a fairly ordinary Newmarket building set just back from the street. Up front there's the admission desk and a gift shop, and then you just kind of wander through the six or seven small-to-medium sized galleries in whatever sort of order you want. [Now the following is from memory, so some may be a bit hazy.] There's a gallery for the history of thoroughbreds and English racing, where you can read about horses back to the Godolphin Arabian as well as the history of the big races, and there's a gallery for great horses with little histories of some of the English champions (many of which I had never heard), and one (Hall of Fame) sponsored by the Racing Post for personalities of English racing such as owners, breeders, jockies, etc. There's also an upstairs gallery of horse racing art with lots of very very nice paintings, and what is called the practical gallery, which has stuff in it like saddles and crops and bits and shoes and so on and so forth but which nobody was visiting when I looked in. The whole place isn't real big, and it isn't like they have the entire Calumet trophy collection on hand or anything, and there's no picture taking allowed, but it was quite fascinating and educational and well worth the trip and the price of admission and I managed to spend quite a good deal of time in there reading English racing history and looking at the pictures of long gone greats. The emphasis, truly, is on the long gone.
On the way out I did a little scouting around the entry area and discovered that this Museum is THE starting place if you ever want to take any tours in the Newmarket area. Some upcoming special tours, as part of "Scandal! Racing Frauds and Betting Coups" month, included a Dick Francis tour that would take you to parts of Newmarket mentioned in his novels, and a trip to the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory. Then there were twice monthly "introduction to racing" tours that squired one all over Newmarket and to the races for and entire day. Others included a private stud tour, a Weatherby's tour, a "behind the scenes" day at Huntingdon, and stable visits to Sir Michael Stoute's and Luca Cumani's yards. Plus of course there was the daily tour of Newmarket (£12). Also up front I discovered that the gift shop features some fairly steep prices for its stuff.
But my time was limited in Newmarket, and I couldn't stay to indulge in any of those tours. A quick trip across the street, or sort of just across the street, to visit a fine (but empty) pub where a late light lunch and pint of something tasty hit the spot, and then it was time to hike back to the train station and attempt to get back to the London hotel by 4:00 pm or so. For the Mudders and Turfers had big doin's planned for Wednesday evening, BIG doin's, and I had a Racing Post to study. And perhaps a nap to take on the train. Guinness is only good for so much strength.