By Emma Berry
David Thompson CBE, the owner with his wife Patricia of Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket, died on Dec. 29 from renal failure at the age of 84.
A proudly patriotic man whose numerous successful racehorses sported the stud's red, white and blue colours, Thompson's significant involvement in British racing and breeding began in 1975 with his purchase of Newmarket's oldest stud farm, which was then in receivership. That same year Music Boy (GB), trained initially in Yorkshire by 'Snowy' Wainwright, became the Thompsons' first Group winner, in partnership with Ken Mackey, in the Gimcrack S. Music Boy was later trained by Brian Lunness, who had been installed as the private trainer at Cheveley Park Stud, and he became the first stallion to stand for the Thompsons, becoming leading first-season sire in 1980.
From the original 270 acres of land purchased, the stud now extends to just less than 1,000 acres and incorporates the neighbouring Strawberry Hill, Sandwich, Ashley Heath and Warren Hill divisions, which house a sizeable broodmare band. Cheveley Park Stud itself is home to the six-strong stallion roster which is headed by Pivotal (GB), one of the most successful stallions of the modern era.
Now 28, and still on active duty, Pivotal was the first foal for both his sire, the former Cheveley Park Stud resident Polar Falcon, and his dam Fearless Revival (Cozzene). More importantly, he was the first homebred Group 1 winner for the Thompsons and, from a relatively humble beginning at stud, starting off at a fee of £6,000 in 1997, he graduated to a high of £85,000 as his success grew. His 32 Group 1 winners around the world include the current French champion sire Siyouni (Fr), as well as Classic winners Sariska (GB), Saoire (GB) and Halfway To Heaven (Ire). Pivotal was also European champion broodmare sire in 2018 and 2019.
Along with Pivotal, David and Patricia Thompson's extensive list of group winners includes the Classic-winning fillies Russian Rhythm and Confidential Lady (GB), trained respectively by two of their longest-standing trainers, Sir Michael Stoute and Sir Mark Prescott. Russian Rhythm, bred in America by Brushwood Stable, was a rare yearling purchase but Cheveley Park Stud's homebred roll of honour contains dual Group 1 winner and successful stallion Medicean (GB), and his fellow top-level winners Chorist (GB), Nannina (GB), Peeress (GB), Exclusive (GB), Virtual (GB) and Hooray (GB). The most recent Group 1 winner was the 2019 Falmouth S. victrix Veracious (GB), while Queen's Trust (GB) provided the Thompsons with a memorable American triumph when beating Lady Eli in the GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf of 2016.
Paying tribute to the successful owner/breeder, Chris Richardson, Cheveley Park Stud's managing director for more than three decades, said, “David Thompson was a very generous, meticulous, sometimes unpredictable man, who always had a certain charm. He inspired everyone with his insatiable enthusiasm for business which, thankfully, included a love of racing and breeding, alongside his wife, Patricia and their family. He had tremendous foresight and would often ask a question, knowing full well the answer. I always tried to be prepared, as one never knew when the thrill and challenge of another equine adventure would catch his imagination.”
One such adventure has been the Thompsons' significant investment in a select string of National Hunt horses, trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead. Most notably, they race the unbeaten novice chaser Envoi Allen (Fr), a Grade 1 winner at each of the last two Cheltenham Festivals. The day before David Thompson died, another of the couple's jumpers, A Plus Tard (Fr), put himself in the Cheltenham Gold Cup reckoning with victory in the G1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown.
Though their involvement in jumping has grown significantly in the last few seasons, the interest in the National Hunt scene has been long held and Patricia Thompson previously owned the 1992 Grand National winner Party Politics (GB).
David Thompson attended the Tattersalls Cheltenham Sale on Dec. 10, which was relocated to Newmarket owing to Covid restrictions, and bought the top two lots, both 4-year-old geldings, for a total of 740,000gns.
Chris Richardson added, “His latest venture into National Hunt racing, proved a huge success and gave him so much pleasure. DBT's recent visit to the Cheltenham Sale held in Newmarket, and to the stud, gave him and all here, so much joy. He certainly enriched the lives of all those he met and who knew him. He will be much missed.”
As well as having been one of the most successful owner/breeders of this or any other era, David Thompson will be remembered as one of the great entrepreneurs and philanthropists, though he always liked to keep a low profile.
After leaving school, he joined his two elder brothers in the family business B. Thompson Ltd, a meat wholesaling company which their father had developed from his agricultural roots in Suffolk. The trio expanded the company to the extent that it was floated on the stock exchange in 1966. It subsequently merged with J. B. Eastwood plc, but Thompson found the restrictions imposed by the corporate structure did not suit his entrepreneurial spirit so well, and he began to plough his own furrow with sensational results.
By this time, David and Patricia Thompson were living in Hillsdown Court in Totteridge in North London, and in 1975 he consolidated his interests in a new company which he named Hillsdown Holdings (a name which will resonate in plenty of racing ears as sponsor of Newmarket's Cherry Hinton S. for several years).
Specialising in taking over ailing businesses, often food-related, and revivifying them, within a decade Hillsdown Holdings became one of the largest privately-owned companies in Britain. In 1985 it was floated on the Stock Exchange and soon became a constituent part of the FTSE 100. By the end of the decade it had an annual turnover of almost £4 billion and over 40,000 employees.
Around this time, David Thompson stepped back from his managerial role in Hillsdown Holdings and sold his interest in the company, but his innate acumen would not allow him to rest. He continued to buy and sell businesses, including farms, and at various times he was the owner of Windsor Racecourse and Queen's Park Rangers Football Club. He also took the opportunity to focus on charitable activity: he and Patricia formed the Thompson Family Charitable Trust, through which they have donated over £70 million to a wide variety of medical, educational, social, artistic and other charities, while maintaining an endowment for future donations of more than £100 million. It was for their philanthropy that both were recently awarded CBEs.
Sir Mark Prescott, who trained Pivotal as well as the Thompsons' homebred Classic winner Confidential Lady and Group 1-winning juvenile Hooray (GB), said, “When they started, Mr Thompson was really more interested in the racing and Mrs Thompson was perhaps more interested in the stud but gradually the two interests melded together. He didn't always like going racing, even when he was younger, but he loved racing. Mr Thompson was determined not to be a tax exile and was determined to pay British taxes. He waved the British flag with his red, white and blue colours. He was very proud to be a British breeder.”
David Thompson is survived by his wife Patricia, children Richard, Rosalind and Katie, and seven grandchildren.