'My Love Of This Industry Is For The Horse': Stallions the Next Step for Parkin

Steve Parkin, right, with his homebred Group 1 winner Fallen Angel and retained jockey Danny Tudhope | Racingfotos


It is fair to say that Steve Parkin has reimagined the man-with-a-van concept. 

He was that once, until he turned the van that he drove himself into a fleet of lorries, and his business extended from warehouses and distribution to supporting some of Britain's biggest retailers in meeting their increasing online demands.

Clipper Logistics has become a well-known name beyond the business pages, particularly among those who follow horse racing. Thirty years after the company was founded, Parkin sold Clipper to GXO Logistics in May 2022. 

“How does a little fella from Leeds with one van create a billion-pound business?” he asks rhetorically as we sit down in the sumptuous office at his latest acquisition, Dullingham Park Stud.

It's a question which this interviewer was plucking up the courage to ask but, as it transpires, the notebook filled with questions may as well have been left at home. All that was needed was a well-charged phone with the voice recorder playing as Parkin merrily recounts his extraordinary tale with a 'can-hardly-believe-it-myself' subtext.

It barely needs stating in the case of a self-made multi-millionaire, but Parkin's success has not of course happened by chance. He knows he's lucky, with his string of racehorses and sprawling stud farms in Yorkshire and Newmarket, but he would also subscribe to the 'harder you work, the luckier you get' mantra. And he's clearly not resting on his laurels while all around him others carry out his orders. 

No, retirement is very much not on the agenda for the 62-year-old; he's already onto the next project in which he is planning to use his sharp business acumen in complementary harness with his friend and bloodstock advisor, Joe Foley, the owner of Ballyhane Stud in Ireland.

“When I was in business, I always tried to do things properly,” he says. 

In illustration of that, under construction just outside the window are what will clearly be high-spec stallion boxes. Six of them. 

Over the last two decades, Parkin has gone from being a co-owner with friends, to sole owner, to owner-breeder, with his greatest success in the latter regard coming last Sunday with the victory of his homebred Fallen Angel (GB) (Too Darn Hot {GB}) in the G1 Moyglare Stud S. Next come the stallions.

He continues, “Things percolate from the top, so how that person at the top of the tree is, is how the rest of the business will run, and the culture that it creates. I've tried to have this same ethos here, and what we're creating, obviously a lot of it is Joe Foley's doing. But where I step in is the extra ten per cent, if you like, from a business perspective. If I'm going to stand stallions here, I want to go the extra bit just to give that feeling that this is something. It's not a backstreet garage, it's a proper shiny dealership. Hence, why we've put proper stallion boxes in.”

He is certainly not limited in his ambition for what will become Britain's newest stallion operation over the winter in stating that he would like Dullingham Park Stud, which is managed by Ollie Fowlston, to emulate Juddmonte Farms.

“Juddmonte, I think, stand head and shoulders above everybody in this industry,” he says.

Throughout the course of a lengthy conversation we veer from the development of Clipper Logistics to horses, family and his beloved Leeds United, and one thing underpins these meanderings: passion. At a time when British owners-breeders are disappearing faster than polar ice caps, it should be viewed as good news indeed that Parkin has set his heart on buying stud farms instead of football clubs. But it was close.

“I'm a big Leeds United football fan,” Parkin says. “I've come very close on a couple of occasions of buying [the club]. That's a big pull to buy your football club.”

He admits that his finance director David Hodkin wasn't enthused by the idea, but that he also had his own personal reservations.

“It wasn't David who talked me out of it, it was actually thinking of my children,” he continues. “All young, all at school. Your dad buys a football club, the amount of hassle they would get.

“But I said to David, 'Right, if I'm not buying the football club, I'm going to properly go for it with the racing.' And it's hard for a normal business finance director to understand. If I went and bought a warehouse, kitted it out, it starts giving me revenue. Doesn't work like that with racehorses or mares. You've got to wait; it's a building block. Anyway, eventually we upped our ante and spent a bit more money.”

To his growing team of horses in training he added the 300-acre Branton Court Stud near Harrogate, which is now his home to Parkin, his wife Joanne and their four children Fabienne, Delphine, Henri and Severine. The eldest, Fabienne, is often seen at the races and sales and is, according to Parkin, “in love with the game”, while Severine is still in education and studying horse management. Their father is delighted at their shared interest, and it is a love which he in turn inherited from his grandfather and father. 

“On a Saturday afternoon, when they'd been and had their bets, they would sit in front of the telly and argue with each other,” he recalls. “Racing was the only sport you could watch live on TV back then.”

If I'm going to stand stallions here, I want to go the extra bit just to give that feeling that this is something. It's not a backstreet garage, it's a proper shiny dealership.

Trips to York racecourse, initially with his father and later with friends, eventually led to his first foray into ownership. Involvement in a larger syndicate then became co-ownership in the Group 2 winner Captain Rio (GB) (Pivotal {GB}).

“I started to do alright and I owned a couple of horses with this guy who got into financial trouble, so I had to buy him out. I ended up buying Captain Rio off him and through that I met Joe Foley,” he recalls.

“He did a deal with me on Captain Rio and we stood him in Ballyhane. Getting Captain Rio very quickly I thought, 'This is easy this. I paid that and I've just made that from a stallion deal.' And he won a couple of good races so there was plenty of prize-money. So I decided to dabble a bit more, and about one-and-a-half million quid later I finally had another winner.

“At this point, Joe said to me, 'If you don't change or have a strategy, you won't be in racing in five years' time.' And he was right.”

Further transactions have taken place in the interim. Rosdhu Queen (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), Parkin's first Group 1 winner, and his German 1,000 Guineas winner Electrelane (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), were bought for 65,000gns and 35,000gns and sold on after their racing careers for 2.1 million gns and 500,000gns, to Coolmore and Shadai Farm respectively. In the meantime, other fillies and mares have been retained or bought to furnish the paddocks at Branton Court Stud, which had its first homebred Royal Ascot winner last year in the G2 Queen Mary S. winner Dramatised (Ire) (Showcasing {GB}). This was followed and trumped by the exploits of Fallen Angel at the Irish Champions Festival. 

That same weekend, Starlust (GB) (Zoustar {Aus}), bred at Branton Court but sold to Jim and Fitri Hay, won the G3 Sirenia S., while the yearling purchase Flight Plan (GB) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}) argued his case for a future berth in one of those shiny new stallion boxes by winning the Parkin-sponsored G2 Dullingham Park S. A trip to America and potential Grade I spoils could be next on his agenda.

“My love of this industry is for the horse,” says Parkin, who admits that he came close to turning his back on it all when he lost Agnes Stewart (Ire), the dam of Fallen Angel, just as her filly was ready to be weaned. 

“Don't forget, I watch them being born. Within 20 minutes, a foal's up on its feet. Within three days it's out in a field. Within three months it's then becoming a naughty school kid. I sit on my terrace at home and the fields are all in front of me, and all of the mares and foals are there. I sit there and I watch them, and I'm fascinated with them.

“And when Agnes Stewart died, this is quite corny I suppose, but I used to call to her. She'd be grazing and she'd turn to me. Agnes Stewart was a school in Leeds I used to play against at football and I always thought it would be a good name for a horse. She was a good two-year-old, and then unfortunately she got injured which curtailed the rest of her career.

“I was looking at her one evening in the field and I thought, 'What's she doing?' And then thought, 'That's colic.'

“I was that devastated, I didn't speak to Joe for a month. But she left us with that filly. I mean, what a story, and that's why I was so emotional on Sunday.”

Entering the stallion business plumbs new depths of involvement for the man who already stands two of the best colts he has raced, Soldier's Call (GB) and Space Traveller (GB), at Ballyhane. For Parkin, it is completing the inexorable loop he's been on since his schoolboy days of sending older lads in to the bookies to place his bets.

“I know this is a sport, and animals are a bit different, but you've still got to use the business ethos,” he says. “I used to have a transport business, but then I would subcontract warehousing, I'd subcontract packaging, I'd subcontract processing. So what I did was I went out and bought a packaging company, I bought a warehousing company. I went and bought that company, and another company, and I joined the circle up.

“If you look at this industry, you can do that same circle: owner, breeder, mares, farms, and the last thing is the stallions.”

He continues, “So we want six stallions here. We've obviously got one or two that we own now that are in Ireland . That's Joe's thing, so obviously we've got to keep that going.

“And the idea here is to cover the range from a 10k stallion to a 50k stallion. I think that's where we need to be heading, and that's lacking a bit [in Britain] compared to Ireland. I'm hugely excited to see how it all develops.”

Also in the development stage, and with some decent early results, is the Bronte Collection, Parkin's return, of sorts, to syndicate ownership. Set up by himself and Foley with a name inspired by Yorkshire's famous literary sisters, the group numbers 15 friends, including the cricketer Jonny Bairstow, and in its second year of existence looks to have a potential Classic prospect in the Acomb S. winner Indian Run (Ire) (Sioux Nation). He steps into Group 1 company next for the Dewhurst S.

“The grey [Clipper Logistics] colours, there's a big plan behind all that,” Parkin explains. “Eventually my daughter will take over. I'm doing this for my family when I'm no longer here and I don't really want other people owning those horses with me. 

“But obviously I know a lot of people from a business career and personal friends, and a number of people were asking me to have a horse with me.”

A selection of homebreds and sale purchases were put together to compile a sizeable team of runners for the Bronte investors, with the team having had 29 individual runners in Britain this season. The original plan had been to sell the horses at the end of their juvenile seasons.

“I buy the horse, or I'll provide the horses from my farm. All they pay for is the training of the racehorses. But, a huge difference to anybody else is that if we have a good horse and we sell it, we split the money. The money doesn't come to me,” he says.

“We trialled it last year really, and it's the best fun I have in racing. Last Sunday, the Moyglare, that was fantastic. It was the greatest day of my life, but there's a pressure behind that. For some reason, I don't know why, with the Bronte, there's no pressure–and the WhatsApp messages, it's hilarious. All these lads have had pieces of horses before, but have all gone away from the game apart from the odd one or two. This has completely rekindled their love of racing.”

Parkin adds, “Because of the success this year, we're going to keep some of the horses in training and not sell. These guys love the sport, they're having that much fun from it.”

With a team of more than 60 of his own horses in training as well, Parkin is inevitably having to spend more time in racing's spotlight. It is clearly not his preferred option, and Foley, a key figure in the politics of Irish racing and breeding, has proved the perfect frontman for the organisation. Parkin, who describes Foley frequently as a “genius”, has his own political links. A member of the Conservative party, he is, through his business endeavours, an advisor to Downing Street. And it should not be overlooked that the Richmond constituency of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Yorkshire is also not a million miles from Parkin's home.

“I've been asked to get involved in the politics of racing and I have some views on racing that are very radical. I think it's doable, but it would need people to be quite radical and the big problem is that racing is run by committees,” he says.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his fondness for football, Parkin believes that a premiership model, with a much bigger shake-up than is currently being planned, is required to engage more fans and retain the country's historic front-running position in the sport.

He adds, “We've got the best bloodstock, the best bloodlines here and in Ireland. And I say this to Rishi Sunak: this is the golden nugget. We can't lose that golden nugget because the more you chip away at it, the more it'll shrink.”

It is unlikely that we will see him in the running to head any of those committees, however.

“I like to be under the radar and racing gives me a bit of exposure but I can manage that. If I owned a football club, I'd be all over the national press,” he says.

“But there's a lot of similarities. If Leeds United score a goal, obviously you jump up. And depending how big a game it is, is how much you would jump up. But I get more of a buzz out of winning a two-year-old maiden at Ripon than I ever did watching a football match.”

Wisely, he appears content to leave the politics to Foley, a strategy that will hopefully ensure that his love for the game is an enduring one. After 20 years it shows little sign of abating.

“Joe needs praising. He is a genius in this industry,” Parkin reiterates. “He takes this as personally as I do. In fact, probably more. He feels the pressure more than I do because he knows it's my money he's spending, and we've spent millions. But also he knows the buzz I get out of it and how much it means to me and. It does, it means everything.”


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