We don’t know much about horses and we know even less about racing, but when an opportunity arose to look round the National Stud, we jumped at the chance to get an insight into a world that we know so little about.
Created in 1916, when Lord Wavertree presented his stud and bloodstock to the nation, and officially opened at its present location in Newmarket in 1967, the stud is situated on 500 acres of pasture land and can accommodate up to 8 resident stallions and 200 mares in its 10 separate yards.
It is also home to the Wavertree Charitable Trust, which was established in 1995 to manage and develop the stud’s educational activities. As well as offering courses to prepare people for trades and occupations in the equine racing and breeding industries, they promote and encourage the research into the breeding, use and management of horses and effectively act as a ‘shop window’ to the thoroughbred breeding industry by providing public access to the stud.
When we got there in the morning, we were given a quick tour of the premises by Rachel, the stud secretary, who filled us in on everything that was currently going on at the stud and gave us an insight into life working and living there.
With practically everyone living on site, there is a strange feel to the place – like it’s a cross between an army base and a university campus. But then with all the immaculate green paddocks and white fences, you feel like you could be on a farm in Wisconsin.
As Emma pointed out, you’d do well to get the fencing contract at the stud! In fact, it is very beautiful (in a pristine kind of way) and, with the great lines of trees down most of the roads (and our own toes and fingers stinging), you could really tell autumn had set in.
Rachel explained that it was quite a quiet time of the year at the stud, with the covering season only running from February 15 to July 15. But there is a general feeling of business about the place with everyone going about their day-to-day routines and looking after the horses.
We were then introduced to Paddy, the head stallion man, who spent a couple of hours with us showing us the stallions (including Amberleigh House, the 2004 Grand National Winner, who is now enjoying his retirement in a paddock) and explaining how the yard is run.
An interesting fact, for those as clueless as us, is all thoroughbreds are given an official birthday of January 1st – regardless of their actual date of birth – to keep the age groups easily defined for racing.
This means that if a foal is born at the end of December, it would have to race against horses that could be anything up to a year older than them, with all the extra training and experience that this would give them. Obviously, that’s not good so, with a mare’s gestation period of 11 months, this explains why covering (the insemination of a mare by a stallion) only takes place between February and July.
At three years old, Cockney Rebel is the new kid on the stallion block and yet to cover a mare. Whilst we were at the Stallion Yard, Paddy spent most of the time preparing him for a viewing later that morning, which entailed exercising and grooming him before a potential customer came to take a look.
As he worked, Paddy kept us amused by explaining how each stallion had their own strong personality (much more than mares apparently), both in the stable and in their attitude towards their ‘job’. The cost of a few minutes with a stallion at the stud ranges from £2,000 to £10,000, but the most expensive in the country is probably around £80,000. When you think that this won’t even guarantee a winner, or even a foal, that’s a lot of money!
If you would like to see the stud for yourself, they run guided tours twice daily from 1st March to 30th September, and on all autumn Newmarket racedays. For more information about the tours, or their Apprenticeships and Diploma and Stud Secretary courses, ring 01638 663464.