Parker Continues Family Tradition

Charlie Parker will take over as president of the Racehorse Owners Association on June 30 | ROA


From the end of June, Britain's Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) will have a new president. Charlie Parker, who succeeds Nicholas Cooper after his four-year stint at the helm, could hardly be taking up the reins at a more challenging time for his fellow owners.

As long as racing does indeed recommence in Britain on June 1, one major hurdle will have been cleared, but the sport will remain, for the time being, behind closed doors, even for the owners of runners. Ahead of assuming his new role on June 30, Parker has already been heavily involved with the unprecedented issues faced by the sport over the last few months as a member of the Resumption of Racing Group.

He says, “Things are evolving pretty quickly and something I would like to consider is that owners can go racing again in due course, assuming it's all safe. The crowds will obviously have to be limited but it's something I'd like to work towards because half the fun of owning a horse is visiting that horse at the yard or watching him race.

I think it's feasible with the right management. Without being silly about it, you can go to the Co-op in Lambourn or get on a tube, so why not a safe environment on the racecourse? It feels like we've been working on [racing's resumption] now for weeks and weeks but as long as we can do it safety then hopefully it can encompass owners as well as stable staff and trainers in time.”

With a hiatus in racing action for more than two months, not to mention the loss of jobs and businesses, concerns have been aired regarding some owners' ability or desire to continue paying training bills amid such uncertainty. Fortunately, so far, the situation doesn't appear to be as grave as initially feared, but plans have been put in place to ensure that the welfare of horses is protected as the season unfolds.

“Over the last eight weeks or so, the ROA has led the piece on on the Relief Fund which has been established to protect the horses if their owners just cannot afford to keep them going,” Parker explains. “That piece of work is something that all the board members of the ROA are very proud of, and it's been done by the team of staff in incredibly difficult circumstances. In the short term that's something that will maybe grow and become the foundation of the welfare side of owning horses, which is of course something that we all have to be really aware of. We need to be as robust on that as possible.”

He continues, “I was fearful that there would be a flood of people getting in touch to say that they cannot keep their horses but actually it's been very few. Now maybe that's because there's been lots of talk about getting back racing again, because so far it's been nowhere near as bad as we thought it could have been. There have been a lot of questions from owners about when racing is coming back and what type of races there will be, will they be able to go to see their horses, all those types of questions.

“We were lucky in a way because the National Hunt season was 80% finished and those horses that would go on their holidays just went six weeks early. The next step is to see how many of those will return to their trainers.”

In taking up the ROA presidency, Parker is following in the footsteps of his late father, Sir Eric Parker, who held the same role between 1998 and 2001 as well as serving a long stint on the ROA council. As the owner of 1991 Grand National winner Seagram (NZ) (Balak {GB}) and breeder at his Crimbourne Stud of G1 Prix Jean Prat winner Havana Gold (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}), Sir Eric's interests within racing were diverse. His son shares his passion for both Flat and National Hunt racing, and he is continuing some of the family's bloodlines at stud as well as having added a pinhooking venture to the portfolio of his Crimbourne Bloodstock operation.

He says, “I felt that I had the skill set that would allow me to do a good job and make a difference. I had an opportunity in my life—my kids are at university so there was a gap there that I could fill. I'm passionate about the sport and the industry and I'm passionate about the owners within that. I've been on the ROA board now for five years and, prior to that, I was very close to my father. He went on endlessly about the issues that he faced when he was on the ROA, going back to the Tote ownership and media rights, and all the battles that he fought and won and lost. So I think it's in the blood really.”

Parker sold the picturesque Crimbourne Stud in West Sussex several years after his father's death in 2014, and he now owns Wellsummers Stud in Marlborough, which operates under the Crimbourne Bloodstock banner, as well as Windsor House Stables in Lambourn, where he lives with his family.

“We bought Windsor House Stables from Peter Walwyn and Roger Teal moved in as our tenant in December. He seems really happy and has some lovely horses,” says Parker. “Other than not seeing friends, life in Lambourn during lockdown has just seemed to have continued quite normally because everyone is working with the horses. We have a small team at Wellsummers and we love it there. We also look after James Stewart's mares and it's a really nice place to be, on top of the hill in Marlborough.”

The retirement of Crimbourne graduate Havana Gold to Tweenhills in 2014 led to Parker being involved with the stallion's best runner to date, the G1 Flying Five winner Havana Grey (GB), who now stands at Whitsbury Manor Stud and has his own first foals on the ground.

He recalls, “I went to the sale with the idea of buying a Havana Gold foal to pinhook. We'd looked at Havana Grey—he's out of a Dark Angel Mare who had won five times and he just looked like an absolute bull of a horse even then. So we bought him and took him to France to sell at the Arqana Yearling Sale, and we thought we were going to hit the jackpot but we only just cleaned our faces really. In hindsight, I wish I had kept him. He was amazing and we have a breeding right now, so we have a Havana Grey filly and she's absolutely gorgeous. She was one of the first foals born this year.”

Parker continues, “I love breeding horses and seeing them go on to do remarkable things but I do think that the breeding side is the most difficult aspect of the entire sport. We lost a foal last week, a beautiful colt by Sea The Moon (Ger) at just three weeks old, and you have to deal with that kind of thing from time to time. So breeding is a huge challenge but in terms of pure enjoyment there's nothing like having a winner on the track with all your friends and family. That's what really got me going at the beginning and still does. During the jumps season it's the jumpers that top the pops for me, then during the flat season it switches. But having those winners, whether it's a bumper at Warwick or a Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day, that's what it's all about.”

Parker can speak with some authority on owning major National Hunt winners as it is not only Seagram who has carried the Crimbourne colours with distinction. His purchase through Highflyer Bloodstock of the 4-year-old mare Verdana Blue (Ire) (Getaway {Ger}) at Cheltenham in 2016 led to a glorious run for the talented dual-purpose performer, who landed the G2 Christmas Hurdle in 2018, beating her stable-mate and dual Champion Hurdler Buveur d'Air (Fr) in the process, as well as earning black type on the Flat and running a good fourth to Dee Ex Bee (GB) in the G3 Sagaro S. last May. Having been bought initially for £65,000, Verdana Blue returned to the sales ring last December and was sold to Michael Tabor for 370,000gns.

“She was some horse,” says Parker, who maintains a small jumping string, notably mostly mares by Grange Stud's son of Monsun (Ger). “We have three more by Getaway. There's Barbados Blue (Ire), who won twice and then she got injured, so she has been back at the farm for a while but she's back [in training]. Then there's Vegas Blue (Ire), who won a listed bumper. We also have an unraced one who I think might be the best of the lot, and she's called Parisian Blue (Ire). She's a big slab of a horse—she's only four but she's gorgeous.”

Explaining the Blue suffix for the Crimbourne Bloodstock jumpers, he adds, “We bought Verdana Blue and she was already named. From then on, we thought, well Getaway is a holiday, and we've been to Vegas and Paris and Barbados, so it's as simple as that really.”

On the Flat side, one of the most revered members of the broodmare band at Wellsummers Stud is Havana Gold's dam, Jessica's Dream (Ire) (Desert Style {Ire}). The dual Group 3-winning sprinter is now 22.

“We haven't been able to get her in foal for the past two years, but we still have her here and we have her daughter Deep Dream (GB), who is by Dream Ahead,” Parker says. “We sold Deep Dream to Sheikh Fahad and then we bought her back. She's just had an Expert Eye (GB) colt. She was going to Calyx (GB) but she didn't get in foal so she's now going to Ten Sovereigns.”

Parker's Flat string includes fillies by Adaay (GB), Muhaarar (GB) and Outstrip (GB) with Lambourn trainers Jonny Portman, Charlie Hills and Roger Teal respectively.

As he awaits their debuts, plenty of his time has been taken up liaising with fellow stakeholders over the return of racing and, despite challenging times for racing and the world beyond, he sees some cause for cautious optimism.

He says, “The guys who were left at the BHA after they furloughed a lot of their staff have worked incredibly hard and done everything they could possibly do.  The likes of Richard Wayman and Nick Rust and Annamarie Phelps have all done a great job, and communication is a big part of that. We will have to try to work together as horsemen to change the playing field in terms of the finances of racing. I know they will be badly affected by what's happening but that's not to stop the effort we have to make going forward. The way we can do that is if the horsemen successfully unite, and from what I've seen over the last few weeks, we have been united and we have managed to achieve some things that will come out in the next week or so that we wouldn't have done if we hadn't stuck together. By sticking together we can now really begin to work with the racecourse groups and achieve a transparent and fair distribution for what is a huge industry.”

Some inroads have been made in recent years in regard to improving the return to the swathe of owners of lower-grade horses whose input is vital for the everyday meetings. Parker also believes that this is an area of the sport that will continue to be safeguarded as racing attempts to recover from what is likely to be a significant financial reversal.

He says, “At the end of the day, without the owners and their horses there is no sport. It comes down to the owners, who pay the trainers, who pay the jockeys, who pay the stable staff, who pay the feed merchants. Owners put £630 million into racing per year and that's without buying the horses. That's where it all starts from, so I'm hopeful we can really move things along over the next few months and get to a much better position for owners.

“Over the last few years the ROA has done a lot of work looking at syndicates and partnerships, and that's something that we are really going to have to redouble our efforts on, and obviously focus in on Class 4, 5, 6 type horses and getting proper prize-money down to those levels. That's number one on our agenda really.”

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