The establishment of Newmarket as a racing centre, first under James 1 and then under Charles I and Charles II, has been dealt with on a separate page. What is usually called the Restoration period – it gets this name from the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II after the English revolution – was a time of revolt against the dour Cromwellian times and was a time of ferment in the theatre and literature. Many other pastimes that had been banned under the Roundheads were enthusiastically resumed, and horse racing – much encouraged by the monarch – was one of them. It is no wonder that horse racing is known in Britain as “the sport of kings.”
There were soon races open to the public all over the country. It would not be right to describe the locations where they took place as “racecourses,” because for the most part they were not permanently assigned to the racing of horses – they were stretches of suitable land where racing could take place, and where when there were no races, the land could be put to other uses. The name “bell courses,” however, was used for a number because the most common prize at that time for winning a horse race was a silver bell.
It is remarkable today to think that Charles II himself took part in races – though perhaps not quite as amazing as all that since in the present day Prince Charles has appeared many times on horseback playing polo. Charles’s favourite horse was called Rowley, Charles II acquired from that the nickname Old Rowley, and there is still today a track near Newmarket called the Rowley Mile. That is how long horse racing traditions in Britain can last.
By the end of the eighteenth century, many of the races that are now known in Britain as “Classics” were already in existence – the St Leger, the Oaks, and the Derby all came into existence in the short period from 1776 to 1780.