Sheikh Fahad Al Thani from the Royal Family Of Qatar will be amongst the amateur jockeys riding on Thursday 7th July in the 2016 running of the world’s oldest surviving race – the Newmarket Town Plate.
The race, which starts at 1pm, kicks off a very special ‘Newmarket 350’ renewal of the annual Moët & Chandon July Festival at the Adnams July Course in Newmarket.
Newmarket is celebrating 350 years as the Home of Horseracing and as part of these celebrations the Town Plate, traditionally run in late summer, has been moved to mark the start of the three-day Moët & Chandon July Festival. Boasting £1.665 million in prize money for its 21 regular races, the three day Festival culminates with the running of the £500,000 Darley July Cup on Saturday, 9th July.
By contrast, the Town Plate has an annual first prize of just £200 for the winning owner. It epitomises the Corinthian roots of the sport of horseracing and is run for the honour of competing rather than for financial reward.
In honour of this special year, the winning rider of the Town Plate will be awarded a specially commissioned copy of the King Charles II Challenge Whip, created by Spink Auction House, which also celebrates its 350th anniversary this year. The original copied artefact is kept in the Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket.
All jockeys who compete are true amateurs – the race has been won by both an accountant and a neurosurgeon in recent years – and the rest of the prize package on offer to the winning rider is very much about tradition.
There is a Perpetual Challenge Plate, a silver photo frame, a voucher from the Newmarket High Street clothes shop, Goldings, and a box of Powters Celebrated Newmarket Sausages.
This year’s Town Plate will be made even more memorable by the unveiling of a special legacy artwork with the winner invited to take part in the unveiling.
The 15 jockeys entered in this year’s event hail from all walks of life and include Matthew Hancock, the current Paymaster General and MP for West Suffolk as well as Newmarket Racecourses committee member Frances Stanley.
Other participants include Sheikh Fahad Al Thani from the Royal Family Of Qatar (major sponsors and investors in British racing through Qatar Racing and QIPCO); Roger Weatherby, Senior Steward of The Jockey Club; Jason Carver, a 45-year-old from Lincolnshire who has landed this race twice in the last three years aboard the former Irish steeplechase winner, Start Me Up; and an unusual mother and son combination – Venetia Wrigley, wife of former Jockey Club Senior Steward Nicholas Wrigley, along with her son, Ed Wrigley.
Legislated in 1665 and thought to have first been run in 1666, the Town Plate is run over a stamina-sapping three-and-three-quarter mile course, much of which is only used for this single race each year but ending on the same home straight (and in front of the same packed grandstands) as where the July Cup is staged.
It is by far the longest flat race staged on a British racecourse (a full mile further than the second longest, the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot) and thus puts real emphasis on the fitness of its contestants – both the horses and the amateur riders.
The 15 riders engaged for the 2016 running of the Newmarket Town Plate are: Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, Jason Carver, Patrick Chesters, Sara Ender, Rachel Flynn, Michael Gates, Ian Gault, Matt Hancock, Steve Hilyer, Derek Jackson, Alan Phillips, Frances Stanley, Roger Weatherby, Ed Wrigley and Venetia Wrigley.