Following his return from nine years’ exile and the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, King Charles II breathed new life into horse racing in Britain, which had previously been banned by Oliver Cromwell, and the sport became an abiding passion. Charles II was instrumental in the development of Newmarket as the ‘Home of Horse Racing’ and, in 1666, inaugurated the Newmarket Town Plate, which is still contested annually, by amateur riders, over three-and-three-quarter miles on the Newmarket Round Course.
Indeed, the older of the two racecourses in Newmarket, the Rowley Mile, takes its name from ‘Old Rowley’, a red-blooded stallion owned by the King and a nickname after applied to the King, himself, who was a notorious philanderer. What remains of the original Palace of Newmarket, which dates from the time of Charles II, is now known as Palace House and, fittingly, is the home of the National Horse Racing Museum.
The ‘Father of the English Turf’, as Charles II became known, was also responsible for establishing the Twelve-Stone Plate, later known as the King’s Plate, and laying down official rules for horse racing, which were adopted first in Newmarket and later nationwide. The Twelve-Stone Plate was contested by 6-year-olds carrying, as the name suggests, 168lb, or 12st 0lb, and the winner was the first horse to win two 4-mile heats.