A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of having a tour around Langton Wold Gallops, a facility used by racehorse trainers who come from miles around. Run by manager Andy Bennison, the 200-acre site sits atop a hill on the Langton Road, about three miles south of Malton on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds.

Andy was asked to help turn the place around by trainers Nigel Tinkler, Brian Ellison and Steve Brown, who as a committee lease the land from the Langton Estate. The gallops were in a bad way, mainly due to lack of funding. Since Andy took over, the committee has invested significantly to create a facility that is unrivalled locally. Andy has developed six-furlong and ten-furlong all-weather tracks, as well as grass gallops, both on the flat and uphill.

There are starting gates to acclimatise young mounts to the sensation of being in the gates, as well fences and hurdles of various widths and heights. Horses who are at the start of their training journey have a special enclosed narrow strip of track with a few hurdles which encourages them to jump the obstacles in front of them rather than run around them.

We joined Andy at 9am, but he had already been there for several hours as patrons had been arriving since daybreak. Trailers queued up for their turn and some had travelled from as far away as Darlington for a chance to train on the best ground available. Andy explained how much works goes in to maintaining it, and it is evident that he is passionate, and deservedly proud, about what he does.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Langton Gallops manager Andy Bennison inspecting the surface of one of his all-weather tracks

In the summer, the grass grows so quickly that as soon as he finishes cutting, he has to start at the beginning all over again "like the Forth Road Bridge" he says. Thankfully he has the help of his young assistant Tom, and it is clear that they are both supremely dedicated to what they do, demonstrated by the fact that if it snows overnight, they sleep on-site, each taking two-hour shifts to constantly clear the tracks so that everything is ready for when the jockeys start arriving the following morning. It’s the kind of commitment that is born out of love for the job.

Malton has been associated with horse racing for centuries, with meetings recorded as far back as 1686, although they likely occurred even before then. Under Puritan ruler Oliver Cromwell, the belief had been that the harder you worked, the closer you were to God. Anything deemed fun would lead you to the Devil and thus all sport and entertainment, such as horse racing and gambling, had been banned. But by the mid-1650s, the population had grown tired of Crowell’s strict rules, and by his death in 1658, he was a figure of hate. The monarchy was restored under Charles II in 1660 and, liberated from the shackles of Puritanism, the "sport of kings" boomed.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Trainers come from as far away as Darlington to use the top of the range facilities at Langton

By 1692, the official Malton Racecourse was on common land just across the road from the current Langton Wold Gallops, and trainers and horse breeders began to congregate around the town, sealing its reputation as a hub of the sport. Owners and enthusiasts descended from all over the country and hotels like the Talbot Inn were bursting at the seams with the racing elite. Such was Langton Wold’s reputation that in 1747, King George III offered 100 guineas in prize money, about £20,000 today.

The town’s racing scene in peaked in the mid-1800s, and more visitors than ever were arriving, thanks to the extension of the railway network. But disaster struck in 1862. To the horror of the racing community, the beloved Langton Wold track was ploughed up after it was sold to a private buyer under the Enclosure Acts, a series of Acts of Parliament between 1604 and 1914 that chopped up and enclosed vast swathes of common land. Racing in Malton never properly recovered, even though a track was briefly set up at Orchard Fields (1867-1870) then later at HighField House (1882-1903).

Although the town has not seen racing for more than 100 years, it is still home to several successful yards and studs. And with its prestigious history in mind, it is a joy to see the name of Langton Wold thriving once again under the expert stewardship of Andy Bennison.

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