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The heart of Royston’s sporting life

PUBLISHED: 15:41 16 October 2013 | UPDATED: 15:41 16 October 2013

Jon Jenkins with Mawaakef, winner of five races

Jon Jenkins with Mawaakef, winner of five races

clive tagg 2013

Therfield Heath is central to Royston’s sporting life, with many groups using its wide open spaces. John Hutchinson takes a look at three that are proud to call it home

You may be surprised to learn that a Grand National and an Epsom Derby winner were both trained in Royston. Back in 1951, Arctic Prince, trained by Willie Stephenson out of his stables at The Ridings, near to the town centre, triumphed in the Derby. Then in 1959, Oxo, ridden by Michael Scudamore, won the big one, the Aintree Grand National, again trained by Stephenson. He remains the only Englishman ever to have saddled a winner of both the Derby and the Grand National. He died last year, aged 77.

Fast forward to the present day, and the horse racing scene is alive and well in Royston, with Therfield Heath central to its success. John Jenkins runs his stables out of Kings Ride, using a gallops on the heath to train his race horses.

The 65-year-old took over Kings Ride in 1987, and as he explains, he is delighted to be one of Royston’s success stories. ‘We have done quite well since we moved in all those years ago. We have got quite a lot of local owners we work with and things haven’t really changed since we arrived. We like it in Royston. We are a family place really. We enjoy working with the owners and have a varied group – that’s what makes us special.’

Jenkins has spent his life working with horses. He served his apprenticeship with G.R.Smyth before becoming a jump jockey. During his 12-year career, he rode more than 100 winners.

Since receiving his trainer’s dual licence, he has trained winning horses for many different types of owner - individuals, groups, and joint and corporate owners. His horses have won the Cesarewitch, Chester Cup and Doncaster Mile on the flat, and his jumpers have won the Daily Express Triumph Hurdle, the Lanzarote Hurdle and the Schweppes Tote Hurdle during his 20-plus year career.

And he has no intentions of letting up, ‘I don’t regard myself as being 65, I still feel like a young man,’ he says. ‘I’m exactly as enthusiastic now as I was when I first started training. After being a jockey, this was the only thing I thought of doing – it was natural and I just love everything about it.’

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Royston Golf Club’s history on the heath goes back to 1892 – but the history of golf here goes back even further.

Some 23 years earlier, Cambridge University graduates Andrew Murray and George Gossett went to Royston armed not only with golf clubs but also a hole cutter. There in 1869 they played a full round of golf over the heath, cutting out a course of 18 holes in the chalk grassland as they went.

With somewhere to play established, 17 undergraduates were enlisted as members of the embryonic Cambridge University Golf Club, each paying two shillings and sixpence subscription. However, the heath proved too far from Cambridge and in 1871 the club folded.

However, as Keith Wood, current club captain of Royston Golf Club explains, the seed had been set. ‘It was felt necessary by the residents of Therfield and of Royston to regulate the use of the heath for sheep grazing and recreation to prevent misuse and abuse, and so in 1888, by act of parliament, there was issued the Regulation of the Therfield Heath Act. The land was set aside for recreational purposes for the residents of Therfield and the town of Royston. In 1893 the establishment of a golf course on the heath was approved and the club began to flourish.’

The club now consists of four sections, men’s, ladies’, seniors’ and juniors’, each with its own captain. Each arranges its own inter-club matches, competitions and social golf.

Mr Wood adds that the club’s location is itself a great asset, ‘Being on the outskirts of Royston with its elevated position and magnificent views over the heath, the clubhouse is a fabulous place to rest a while, to sit and enjoy the view and have a coffee or soft drink at the bar.’

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Outdoor running is always better when you have pleasant surroundings to take in – and members of Royston Runners have just that.

Set up in 1985, the club, says social secretary Maurice Hill, is the envy of rivals.

‘It means everything having the heath to call home. It is so lovely and so beautiful and other clubs often say how jealous they are of what we have here,’ says the 68-year-old who joined the club 28 years ago.

‘Back in 1985 I had turned 40, was a heavy beer drinker and was very unfit. I knew a chap from the pub who did a bit of running, so we met up one Sunday and ran up to Therfield. On the way back another chap handed us a leaflet about setting up a running club, and that was that.’

Royston Runners now has more than 200 members, and prides itself on being a warm and friendly club that welcome athletes of all abilities.

Another member, who joined 15 years ago, is Chris Lennon, who went from reporting on a fun run to signing up. ‘As a cub reporter on the town’s Crow newspaper, I was assigned by my old news editor to cover the annual Royston Fun Run – which included being expected to run it,’ he explains. ‘I was pointed in the direction of one or two Royston Runners members and never looked back. Even now, I’m still proud to be part of what I’d say is one of the friendliest, nicest clubs around.’

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Other great sporting groups on the heath

Royston Rugby Club pitchero.com/clubs/roystonrfc

Royston Power Kites therpk.co.uk

Royston Rounders Club facebook.com/roystonroundersclub

Royston Heath Archery Club roystonarchery.org

Royston Hockey Club roystonhockey.co.uk

Royston Tennis Club roystontennis.co.uk

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For more information on John Jenkins Racing, including owning a race horse, call 01763 241141 or email john@johnjenkinsracing.co.uk

Royston Golf Club golf and house memberships are available. The club house is also available for hire. For further information visit the club, or contact the club secretary on 01763 242696 or roystongolf@btinternet.com

Details of Royston Runners events can be found at roystonrunners.co.uk or call Maurice Hill on 07719 132793.

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