Newmarket celebrates future champions on 350th anniversary

For two enthralling days on 7-8 October, racegoers were treated to first-class entertainment on and off the track at the second edition of Dubai Future Champions Festival. Sam Price reports

It has been 350 years since the establishment of organised horseracing in Newmarket and, after a year of celebrating the landmark with a number of commemorative events across the Suffolk town, the “Home of Racing” brought the curtain down in style on 7-8 October with the second edition of Dubai Future Champions Festival.

As well as celebrating the future stars of the racecourse, the festival recognises “future champions” in areas such as business, innovation and equestrianism, and the educational theme of this year’s festival was highlighted before racing began when 700 students from Newmarket Academy travelled to the Rowley Mile to create a giant “350” on the track. The anniversary symbol was also a thank you to the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, for his generous contribution to both the racing industry and the local community, including a new initiative – the Newmarket Academy Godolphin Beacon Project – which gave pupils the chance to learn in an innovative, racing-themed environment as part of Dubai Future Champions Education Week. 

The opening race was named after this important initiative, and fittingly provided one of the feel-good stories that make horse racing so popular as Mrs Danvers, a horse who went unsold at auction at the basement fee of £1,000 in the spring, sprinted clear of her rivals to break the five furlong track record for juveniles.

“If all horses were like this, it would be easy,” said winning trainer Jonathan Portman afterwards. “She is marvellous and it’s a big deal for us. We have been knocking at the door and working hard for 16 or 17 years with a licence, trying to get a good horse.”

A similarly impressive performance followed from the Andrew Balding-trained Poet’s Vanity in the Oh So Sharp Stakes, before two jockeys at different ends of the age spectrum excelled. First, the ever-popular Frankie Dettori guided Aclaim to victory in the Dubai 100 Challenge Stakes – a success he would add to on Astronomy’s Choice in the Maiden Fillies’ Stakes later on the card – before 18-year-old apprentice Hollie Doyle, who wasn’t born when Dettori won his first 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, showed strength and bravery to win the Godolphin Flying Start Old Rowley Cup aboard Scarlet Dragon.

As in 2015, the feature races went to master Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, who recorded a stunning one-two in the Dubai Fillies’ Mile as the impressive Rhododendron led home stablemate Hydrangea. Twenty-four hours later racegoers felt a sense of déjà vu as Churchill scooped the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes, with O’Brien’s Lancaster Bomber rallying to finish second ahead of Godolphin pair Blue Point and Thunder Snow, both of whom ran well and look exciting prospects for next season.

But Godolphin’s most stirring performance came from Best Solution, who dominated from the front to win Saturday’s Dubai 100 Autumn Stakes by two lengths, prompting trainer Saeed Bin Suroor to plot a route to Dubai for the exciting colt.

“We will maybe take him to Dubai for the Classic races – a trial and the Guineas,” said Bin Suroor. “We will then see if he is good enough to run in the UAE Derby.”

While the crowd marvelled at the action on the track, they were royally entertained off it, with the Flavours of Dubai tent, which operated for both days of the festival, proving a real hit. Here, the public were given the opportunity to learn more about the fabric of Dubai by taking a culinary tour of the city sights and smells, sampling Middle Eastern delights such as ligamat, machboos and arabic mezze.

“It’s not something you usually see on a racecourse, and it was a really good way to showcase everything great about the whole Dubai experience,” said Newmarket head chef Damian Adams.

Meanwhile, in the paddock, the precursor to racing on Saturday was the Retraining of Racehorse Parade, which saw ten horses including Dubai World Cup winners Prince Bishop and African Story strut their stuff in front of a large crowd, who found out about the wide range of roles they are able to perform in their post-racing careers.

This nod to the past put further emphasis on the role that Newmarket’s heritage has in helping to shape the years ahead, and as the 350th anniversary celebrations were brought to a close with a stunning, ten-minute pyrotechnic air display, the future seemed extremely bright.

“Through the partnership of Dubai and Newmarket Racecourses, Dubai Future Champions Festival has been established as a key event in both the racing and community calendar,” said Newmarket’s Managing Director Amy Starkey, who was pleased to welcome more than 20,000 visitors through the gates across the two days – a figure that was ten per cent up on last year’s inaugural edition.

And now, with a racing programme and an educational programme both geared at unlocking potential, the festival looks set to play an increasing role in nurturing future champions – both in sport and in life.