Updated: Aug 20
The Palio di Siena may occupy its titular mantle as the world's oldest race. But the Newmarket Town Plate, first run in 1666, stakes its claim to be the oldest run in this country under rules. That said, it hasn't of course, been run in an unbroken stretch for over three hundred years. Its annual stagings were interrupted on two occasions: by the Second World War, and by the global pandemic of 2020.
It was Newmarket's founder in all but name, Charles II, who initiated the event, now serving as a celebration of racing eccentricity. The Town Plate should be run "forever", Charles stated. "Every rider that layeth hold on, or striketh any of the riders, shall win no plate or prize," add the rules. "Whosoever winneth the plate or prize shall give to the Clerk of the Course twenty shillings, to be distributed to the poor both sides of Newmarket, and twenty shillings to the Clerk of the Race, for which he is to keep the course plain and free from cart roots." It went on to explain that no participant should be a "serving man or groom".
The Round Course can be picked out travelling right-handed through the National Stud
And, taking inspiration from Charles himself, who became the first - and, so far, only - monarch to race and win, the Town Plate remains an amateur contest. From 79-year-old Colin Moore in 2022, to town councillors, lawyers and students, jockeys compete in what was once one of the most prestigious prizes in the land. Now, amongst the cheers, all on offer to victors is a photo frame, a voucher from Goldings, and a box of Powters Newmarket sausages.
And what of the trip? 3m6f on Newmarket's 'third course', winding unseen through the grounds of the National Stud. The Round Course is used but annually, for this ten-minute slice of historical rooting: a calendar point at racing's headquarters. 2021's 350th running was taken by Rachel Rennie, who had hoped to compete in 2016 but withdrew for cancer treatment. In next week's edition - the 352nd - we await a new victor, and a new story.