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John Bone takes an irreverent look at Newmarket's week



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There is an elephant in the room when polite society meets in Newmarket these days. It’s all smiles and silence in some circles as people pretend not to know about the latest twists and turns in the extraordinary story of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rachid Al-Maktoum upon whose brilliance and wealth the health of the town partly rests.

True, this royal ruler of Dubai turned up calmly enough at Tattersalls last week but his family life seemed in turmoil after the High Court concluded his former wife’s phone had been hacked.

This was only the latest surprise.

John Bone, the columnist who gets Newmarket talking.
John Bone, the columnist who gets Newmarket talking.

Up to now it has been the Sheikh’s relations with his daughters that has attracted most publicity. All this is a rich diet for gossip-mongers if they dare to breathe a word.

Meanwhile, many of us mere observers view it all with a weary eye. We’ve had centuries of royal scandals here. Little harm done. It may even have added a little lurid lustre to the town’s image.

Setting aside possible poor behaviour towards women and the unthinkable possibility of Newmarket losing its most generous investor, what really bothers me is how all this touches upon the Queen. She and the Sheikh are racing friends. He fills her stables with valuable yearlings. He has been a passenger in her Ascot carriage. If any of this hurts her it will hurt us all in a way that has little to do with racing and everything to do with admiration, respect and love for our blameless monarch. She has enough family problems of her own.

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The Jockey Club clearly has access to a very long-range weather forecast. Announcing the line-up of singing stars for Newmarket Nights next year, Sophie Able, general manager of Newmarket Racecourses, said she was looking forward to hearing Paloma Faith ‘on a warm summer’s evening again in 2022’.

So there is no risk of heavy going for that day’s racing.

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The new rule that any racehorse that has run in Great Britain cannot be eaten will be widely welcomed by even the most enthusiastic carnivore.

We must thank the British Horseracing Authority guided by its veterinary committee for taking a step most of us had not hitherto thought necessary. But I am still left with a nasty thought. Will this stop all those tasteless jokes about Newmarket being famous for horse and sausages? I truly doubt it. I for one will keep right on making them.

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The mayor, Michael Jefferys, is right. Just because the old middle school site in Newmarket is earmarked for housing in the local plan does not make it immutable. The county development plan did not come down from Mount Zion on tablets of stone. It is idiotic to be dogmatic on such an important matter.

This snag should have been spotted and sorted long ago but it is not too late to put things right. Generations of local people will not forgive letting this opportunity for leisure space slip away,

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Why has Waitrose sunk millions in a facelift for the Newmarket store? Why bother what they look like to their customers? After all, it’s the merchandise that matters, isn’t it?

No. What successful shops have always sold is not just their stock, be it bicycles or buckets, bananas or brandy, ballgowns or boots, they have sold experience.

The great traders like Lipton, Selfridge and Marks & Spencer knew this.

These things are a matter of serious academic study and I do not pretend to know any more about retail than what I have learned in a lifetime of parting with my money over the counter or by chequebook.

A shop is a theatre and we, the shoppers are both actors and audience. The smallest market stall must offer more than what the seller sells. Along with his bargains he must sell a smile, a bit of cheeky chat.

With this in mind I invite any trader on struggling high streets everywhere to take an honest look at the experience they offer to casual or regular customers.

Pitching the exchange between vendor and buyer is a delicate judgement. Too chummy or too starchy can kill the experience. That said, I can at last come to my point, what I really want to say about Newmarket High Street and its vicinity. Despite these difficult times there are a few, thankfully only a few, into whose premises I hesitate to walk and out of whose premises I am glad to get out. Wild horses would not get me to quote cases. Suffice to say that Covid and online are not the only curses they face.

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As Mayor Michael Jefferys leads a brilliant campaign to plant thousands of daffodil bulbs to beautify the town, he is also deploring how neglected weeds are making all the town shabby.

The simple answer would be to plant bulbs where the weeds are and hide our shame but we all know nature doesn’t work like that. Opposition to some chemical weedkillers complicates things. What’s worse, if we encourage well-meaning individuals, like the kids in the mayor’s bulb squad, we’d end up with children digging in gutters amid passing traffic. No insurance could make that right. The trouble is that once weeds get a grip they quickly establish a new permanent home. You’ve got to get them young.

Over to you, West Suffolk councillors and your officers. You are paid to do this job so do it. Or are you too weedy to hoe a thistle?

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