22 Mar 2021 Birthplace of British racing and legend
Newmarket, a small market town in Suffolk, lays claim to being the birthplace of British racing. The first recorded race dates back to 1622, and in 1671, King Charles II rode to victory, becoming the first and only reigning monarch to race and ride a winning horse. In the early 20th century, King Edward VII’s regular visits boosted the rise in local stables and stud farms. Indeed, Newmarket is now the site of the National Stud, the showcase of British horseracing.
This historic course hosts high-profile meets with a capacity for 45,000 people, especially on the July Course, where horses race a straight one mile incorporating a long downhill stretch before a short uphill furlong to the finish line. The July Course or the Summer Course features top-class races like the Falmouth Stakes.
Racing enthusiasts know that the racecourse welcomes celebrated competitors, including Kieren Fallon, a retired Irish six-time British Champion Jockey. I had the opportunity to watch Fallon ride and win in 1999 and managed to snap a mediocre photo.
Horseracing isn’t Newmarket’s only legend. On the corner of a crossroad outside of Newmarket, a small tended grave lies ensconced with green wire hoops. A cross bearing the inscription, Joseph, the unknown Gypsy Boy, is adorned with flowers and teddy bears.
The story behind the grave recounts the life and death of a sheep minder. The boy, who while tending his family’s sheep, fell asleep. Once awakened, the young lad thought he lost a sheep. Despair won out in the end, and the boy hung himself from a tree and was buried where the marker now lies.
Flowers and coins regularly appear on the grave. For years, the grave was anonymously tended. Passing cyclists claim they are compelled to dismount.
Legend passed on through the generations claims that the flowers’ colors on the grave will match those of the winning horse on special racing days, notably the Epsom Derby. Legend has it that the flowers’ colors before a big racing day, such as last weekend’s Derby, are those of the winning horse.
Has legend become part of Newmarket’s marketing portfolio, or is the careful, mysterious tending of Joseph’s grave not unlike the three roses and bottle of French cognac left at Edgar Allen Poe’s marker? And unlike Poe’s visitor, will the legend of the winning colors continue?!