Mystery horse skeleton found at Newmarket’s King Charles II Palace stables ‘could be’ racehorse legend Doctor Syntax or of royal stock
PUBLISHED: 20:22 12 December 2014 | UPDATED: 20:22 12 December 2014
An expert believes contractors may have unearthed a legendary racehorse during excavations for a major new tourist attraction in Newmarket.
The skeleton was found at the Palace House stables and there are theories the remains could belong to the legendary Doctor Syntax, which won more than 36 races in the 19th Century - or may even be of royal racing stock.
The horse was discovered during excavations for the new National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art, at King Charles II Palace stables.
Graham Snelling, curator at the National Horseracing Museum, which will move to the centre in 2016, said the find was “very exciting”.
“It came about because a member of the public walking past, before the horse was found, told us he had read that Doctor Syntax was buried at Newmarket Palace House stables. Then, when the skeleton was discovered, it was a potential possibility.” He added: “Where it was buried, it would make sense. Doctor Syntax was euthanised here in 1838.”
He added: “It was a very careful digger driver that spotted the skeleton. It would be an amazing find if it turned out to be Doctor Syntax. He was one of most consistent racehorses of his time. He went to stud [here] in 1824. He was a good sire as well as a great racehorse.
“It could also be a royal racehorse. Its location does not suggest it wasn’t. It is very exciting. It makes you think what else is there to find.”
The King Charles II Palace House and stables, which were built in the 17th century, were home to royalty and their racehorses for hundreds of years.
The horse was found in what is now the Rothschild yard.
Archaeologist Chris Faine, of Oxford Archaeology, said he was not convinced the skeleton was that of Doctor Syntax due to the apparent age of the horse’s teeth.
Doctor Syntax was born in Yorkshire 1811 and won more than 36 races from 1814 to 1823. Described as slight and intelligent, Doctor Syntax, whose most famous offspring was prizewinning mare Beeswing, is believed to have been 28 when he died. An estimated age, through teeth wear, puts the mystery horse at 18 to 20 years old.
However, both the skeleton and Doctor Syntax measured 15 hands high.
Mr Faine said: “The date of the burial is uncertain. Some blue and white transfer printed pottery was found in the same fill which wasn’t produced until the 1750s so that’s the earliest it could be.”
“As for cause of death, I can’t give you an exact answer. There’s no trace of any other injuries on the skeleton. The skull was heavily smashed, which means I can’t tell from it whether it was euthanised. I’m told that the preferred method from that period was a medium gauge shotgun behind the ear which wouldn’t have done the skull lot of good anyway. It’s more than possible it was put to sleep.
“It was certainly a racehorse, all the evidence points to that. I don’t think it could be Doctor Syntax, but you would have to carry out DNA tests to make sure.
“It was in a specifically dug grave and was not just manhandled in. It could be a royal racehorse, but it is impossible to say for sure. It was carefully buried.”
As for the future of the horse, curator Mr Snelling, who has been at the museum for 22 years, said he could not say whether it would become an exhibit and would consider carrying out a DNA test. The museum would welcome anyone who has further information that could shed light on the identity of the horse.