Four rubbing-down houses stood on Newmarket Heath in the eighteenth century; one still stands. Rubbing down involved wiping sweat off horses after exercise or racing, using wisps of straw or rough cloths. The house in the foreground of this picture seems to have been reserved for horses belonging to royalty and to members of the Jockey Club. It is identified in John Bodger's pictorial map of the racecourse and buildings on Newmarket Heath (published 1787) as 'the King's Stables'. The two spectators' stands in the background are 'the King's stand', on the left, and 'the Duke's stand' on the right in the distance. There is a movable betting-post between them.
The picture was probably worked up in the studio from preliminary drawings made on the spot. Stubbs transcribed the subject as faithfully as possible, without aesthetic concessions. No preparatory sketches are known to survive, although many such items were included in Stubbs's studio sale on 27 May 1807, under the heading 'Drawings, Drawing Books, Studies from Nature, Sketches &c'.
Basil Taylor, Stubbs, London 1971, pp.42, 208, reproduced pl.34
Judy Egerton, George Stubbs 1724-1806, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1984, reprinted 1996, pp. 82-5, reproduced p.82 in colour