Steve Parkin has already built his own business empire. He’s been there, done that and has the bank balance to prove it.
Now the man who was, quite literally at one stage, the driving force behind Clipper Logistics is embarking on an ambitious new stallion venture at Dullingham Park on the edge of Newmarket. He’s got a taste for empire building and he wants more.
“What do successful men do? Some go and buy a football club, but what do I get if I buy a football club?” Parkin says as he gazes out of the boardroom window that overlooks the Dullingham Park stallion yard. “This gives me as much of a buzz as owning a football club. But it’s closer to nature, it’s animals, it’s people, it’s more personal and something I can put my mark on.”
A key component at any stallion farm is the stallions. Parkin’s business interests may have been built from a standing start but the success in his professional life has allowed him to take a running jump into his latest project.
The strapping Shaquille is the headline act after claiming back-to-back Group 1 sprints in the Commonwealth Cup and July Cup. He is joined by Clipper’s former colour bearer Soldier’s Call, whose first Ballyhane Stud-conceived crop has impressed by producing 25 European two-year-old winners – and counting.
Parkin’s background gives him a fresh perspective on how to conduct business in the stallion game.
The customers here are the breeders, and we’ve got to deliver for them.
His views carry added weight given his success in other walks of life, but he is not inclined to pontificate about where racing and bloodstock can do better.
Instead, he would rather lead by example.
“My wealth has given me a bit of power in the right places; I could ring Rishi Sunak up now if I wanted to,” he says matter of factly. “I’ve had various conversations with the powers that be in racing about potentially getting involved in the politics. But the problem I have is that I’m very much my own man. I see racing and I’ve studied it from afar and I’ve studied it internally. I’ve seen how it’s put together. Would you build an industry like this from scratch now? No, you wouldn’t. You’d have a completely different infrastructure.
“A lot of the good stallion prospects move to Ireland, and you’re never going to change that because horses are part of the fabric over there. But let’s try to reverse the trend a little bit and stand some good, commercial stallions here in Britain and give something back to breeder. That’s what Clipper Logistics was all about: collaboration with the customer. The customers here are the breeders, and we’ve got to deliver for them.”
Parkin is not your typical stallion owner. In fact, he has rarely cleaved to convention throughout his life. He grew up in Middleton, a staunchly working-class area of Leeds with close ties to the mining industry. Despite this upbringing, he has always viewed Margaret Thatcher as a hero.
He recalls his final school report bearing the words “what a waste of talent” as he prepared to leave formal education at 16 without a single qualification. “That’s more down to being naughty, rather than not having intelligence,” Parkin says with a distinctive West Yorkshire twang. “My father was grammar school-educated and he was a clever man. Obviously I inherited part of that.”
Once Parkin began ploughing his own furrow his talents became anything but wasted. Given his Middleton upbringing, an 18-month spell down the local mine felt like an inevitability, but once he left the pit he gained his heavy goods licence and set in motion a career path straight out of a Hollywood script.
He delivered fish from Aberdeen to Yorkshire, then swapped his artic lorry for a transit van and began shifting clothing from London to Leeds. Just when things seemed to be going swimmingly, he had a disagreement with his boss and walked out of the job.
“I decided to buy a van and restarted the business with a £2,000 bank loan that my sister got me,” he recalls of what happened next. “I went back to my old contacts and gradually companies like Bonmarche gave me a break. That was in 1992, and very quickly I’d created a £3 million-a-year business. On paper I was a millionaire within two years of restarting what became Clipper Logistics.”
The path to success is seldom linear and Parkin’s trajectory with Clipper Logistics is no exception. Suffice to say, every backwards step was followed by three in the right direction. Through a mixture of self-belief, savvy decision making and connections with the right kind of people, including a pre-knighthood Sir Philip Green, by 2006 Clipper was a £100 million business. The financial crisis of 2008 saw the company sailing perilously close to the wind, with the owner recalling that he lost “a third of turnover and 75 per cent of my profit in six weeks”.
But just when things seemed to be at their bleakest, Parkin had what he refers to as “another huge break”. By that time online shopping was becoming a major factor in the market, and Parkinhad a reputation for getting things done. Asda was the first company to turn to Clipper to handle the spiralling volume of deliveries and returns. A succession of major retailers followed suit and Parkin never looked back. Thirty years after it the was founded, Clipper was sold to the New York-based GXO Logistics for a reported £965 million in May 2022.
“I made it a huge success and the revenue went up and up and up, and more importantly the share price went up too,” he says. “I did it differently. I wasn’t just a transport company. I thought outside of the box. In business I used the analogy of joining the circle. I started off as a transport business. Then I bought a warehousing business, a processing business and a truck business. Everything I was doing, the companies that I was buying, it was about joining the circle. That’s what I’m doing here at Dullingham Park too.”
Buying a yearling was an investment, not just blowing money
Brainpower isn’t the only thing Parkin inherited from his father, as he traces his passion for racing back to Saturdays at home during his youth. “When I was eight or nine my grandad lived with us and he and my father used to have a bet,” he says. “The only thing that was live on TV on a Saturday was racing. I used to watch them arguing about the horses they’d backed and I was fascinated. From that I got interested in what they were arguing about.”
As business began to boom, Parkin took his first step into racehorse ownership with the appropriately-named Captain Clipper, whose portrait now hangs on the wall of the Dullingham Park Boardroom. The son of Royal Applause’s victory in a humble five-runner Beverley maiden in August 2003 was the precursor to much bigger things. When an associate Parkin was due to partner on a few horses with found himself in financial difficulty, Captain Rio transferred to the ownership of Clipper Group Holdings. At the end of his racing career, the eight-length winner of the Group 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte was sold to stand at Ballyhane ahead of the 2004 breeding season. “And that’s how I met Joe Foley,” says Parkin.
Foley has been a central figure in Parkin’s racing journey and helped steer the owner in a direction that was not only more successful but also more sustainable. “One 40-minute phone call with Joe was basically the lightbulb moment when I realised that I needed to be more strategic,” says Parkin. “Buying a yearling was an investment, not just blowing money. At that point I’d just been thinking, ‘I like that yearling, I’ll buy that’.”
The first horse they bought together was Beyond Desire, winner of a French Group 3 and two Listed contests. One of those, the Lansdown Stakes, was won by her daughter Queen Of Desire seven years later, while her latest two-year-old, Zoustar colt Starlust, won this year’s Group 3 Sirenia Stakes in the colours of Fitri Hay.
Clipper’s familiar all-grey silks have also been carried by the likes of 2012 Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes heroine Rosdhu Queen, who was sold on to Coolmore for 2,100,000gns. Twelve months earlier Clipper’s German 1,000 Guineas winner Electrelane went the way of Shadai Farm at 500,000gns, while the high-achieving colts Soldier’s Call and Space Traveller are now plying their trade at stud.
The more strategic approach has seen Parkin evolve from a racehorse owner to an owner-breeder and now a stallion owner. He owns over 60 horses in training and three farms, with the purchase of Dullingham Park preceded by Rathbride on the Curragh and Branton Court Stud in Yorkshire. The latter property is not only where 32 of Parkin’s elite broodmares reside, it is home to his family too, namely wife Joanne and their four children Fabienne, Delphine, Henri, and Severine.
The dynamic between Parkin and Foley is evidently much closer than the usual owner and advisor relationship.
“We’re nearly family and I treat him like a brother,” says Parkin, who quickly switches from sincerity to humour. “And I have to because I’d kill him if I didn’t! I thought I could be hard work… he’s a superstar though. For somebody like me who’s come into the industry with wealth, there aren’t many Joe Foleys around. He’s very straight, he wants the industry to be transparent and things to be run properly.”
He’s a big name for us
Parkin likes things done properly, too, and isn’t prone to doing them by halves. The 110-acre site at Dullingham Park has received care, attention and heavy investment since its new owner moved in, including planting 100 semi-mature trees and adding four kilometres of hedging. But the picturesque foliage pales in comparison to the stallion station that is being developed.
No expense has been spared installing six palatial stallion boxes, a state-of-the- art covering barn and stables for visiting mares. There is also a glass-walled hospitality pavilion overlooking the showing area, the presence of which speaks of Parkin’s customer-focused approach. This is a stud farm that marries form, function, style and substance.
It is an undeniably impressive facility but there is no sense that this project has been driven by vanity. Instead, the team at the helm, which includes Managing Director Ollie Fowlston, hopes Dullingham Park can become a pillar of the industry. Securing the services of a talent like Shaquille is a boon for British breeders, and the team believe the fee at which the Group 1-winning sprinter will stand highlights their cooperative approach.
“He’s a big name for us but we’re going to price him very commercially,” says Parkin. “We’re not going to squeeze his fee to the highest point we think we can reach, we’re going to stand him at a fee where we think breeders have a great chance of making a profit. We’re hoping to grow this place in conjunction with breeders. There’s no them and us attitude
“What made Clipper Logistics different is the collaboration with the customer, and that’s what we’re doing here. We want to collaborate with our customers, the breeders, because, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.”
Parkin acknowledges that finding suitable occupants for the four remaining stallion boxes won’t be a simple task, but states that the aim is to have the yard fully stocked within the coming years.
“I would like to see the stallion boxes full in the next five years,” he says. “If we could cover the whole spectrum for breeders, from £10,000 up to £50,000 stallions, that would be utopia for us.
“We were doing a bit of bidding last year and tried to buy one or two for lots of money, but couldn’t get our hands on anything. The problem with the good horses is nobody wants to sell them. We’ve been lucky with Shaquille because [co-owner and breeder] Martin Hughes is somebody I know outside of racing. Martin’s kept a piece and will be supporting the horse too. He’s happy to stay in for the adventure of Shaquille going from a high-class racehorse to, hopefully, being a very good stallion.”
Agnes Stewart had a character about her
Dullingham Park opens its doors at the end of a productive season for Parkin. The Clipper silks have been carried to numerous successes across Britain and Ireland, including by Flight Plan, who suggested he could one day be worthy of a berth in the stallion yard when running out a fitting winner of the Group 2 Dullingham Park Stakes at Leopardstown.
But nothing, not this year nor over the previous two decades, could match the poignancy of Fallen Angel’s victory in the prestigious Moyglare Stud Stakes. Not only did the daughter of Too Darn Hot provide Parkin with his first homebred Group 1 winner, but she added a fairytale chapter to a story that encapsulates all of racing’s giddy highs and painful lows.
Fallen Angel is the fourth and last foal out of the star-crossed Agnes Stewart, who Parkin raced to win the May Hill Stakes. The owner was also there when the budding blue hen took a turn for the worse.
“Fallen Angel has extra special meaning because my favourite mare on my farm was Agnes Stewart,” he says. “The reason she was my favourite was because she had a character about her. This filly is the spitting image. She probably has a bit more power as an athlete, but her looks, her ears, everything is Agnes Stewart.
“When Agnes was in her stable at Branton Court, I’d go down to the barn after I’d finished work on an evening, and if I went to any other mare first, she’d try to bite me. I had to walk into the barn, she was four stables up on the right hand side, and I had to go to her first and she’d put her head over her door and snuggle up to me, then I could go stroke the rest.
“I used to shout her name when I was on the terrace and she was in the field and her head would go up. I saw her getting colic so it was me who rang the stud manager. I called him and said there’s something wrong with Agnes. She was pawing and up and down. They sent her in [to the vets] but when they brought her back home I said she still doesn’t look right to me. The rest is history as they couldn’t save her.”
The episode proved so painful that Parkin questioned whether he could continue. “It broke my heart,” he says. “It was like losing one of my family. In that split second I actually thought to myself ‘I don’t need the upset, do I really want to be doing this?’ I questioned whether I could cope with the sadness.”
I didn’t expect this to become as big a part of my world as it is now
But having dealt with the inevitable lows that come when you make an emotional investment in thoroughbreds, Parkin now has a growing number of experiences from the other end of the spectrum.
As well as Fallen Angel, Branton Court also produced homebred Royal Ascot scorer Dramatised, who added this year’s Temple Stakes to her Queen Mary success. The owner-breeder says his homebred triumphs have eclipsed anything he has felt following his beloved Leeds United, a club he has twice come close to buying.
“The beauty with horses like Fallen Angel and Dramatised is, I actually saw them being born, taking their first steps after half an hour and running around a nursery paddock three days later,” he says. “I didn’t expect this to become as big a part of my world as it is now. The love is for the animal, though. The fascination of putting that mare with that stallion to create this foal. Fallen Angel is bigger than Leeds United winning the Champions League three times, because we’ve made that. It’s unbelievable.”
Risk, be it emotional or financial, is inherent in racing and breeding. Almost every decision is followed by a binary set of outcomes: success or failure. Parkin proved he had the Midas touch in the world of business, and all known form points to him having the commitment, passion and wherewithal to prove just as successful in the bloodstock industry.
“This doesn’t feel like a risk,” he says of the development of Dullingham Park. “Spending £15 million on a stud farm isn’t wastage, that’s investment in the future. This feels like I’m creating something for my family. I have four children, all into horses and racing. I see this as something that will be around for a long time and can be handed down through the generations of my family. When I look at this as an investment, it’s an investment in my legacy.”
Bronte hitting the heights
Three farms, a growing number of stallions, around 60 horses in training and close to 75 broodmares would be more than enough for most owners.
Not Steve Parkin, though. As well as the horses he runs under the Clipper Logistics banner, the passionate owner-breeder is also behind the Bronte Collection syndicate.
“I know a lot of people in business and industry and lads who’ve been in racing, ex owners,” he says. “They’re always saying they’d like to have a horse with me. In the Clipper colours, it’s more of a business and it’s a project. It’s difficult for me to let people into that and financially I don’t need people to have horses with me.
“So we had this idea that I’d create a club for my mates who wanted to have a horse with me. I’d buy or supply the horse, so they don’t pay for that, but they’re their horses and they keep their share of the profit. They can’t lose because they’ve spent zero capital. All they’re paying is for the training.”
The 15 syndicate members, which include England cricket star Jonny Bairstow, pay £40,000 a head for their share in Bronte’s 50-strong string. They have enjoyed some big results this season, most notably with Indian Run, winner of the Group 3 Acomb Stakes, and Golden Trick, who landed a hugely lucrative pot in the Irish EBF Ballyhane Stakes.
“Of all the fun I have in racing, the most I have is with Bronte,” says Parkin. “The pressure is off a bit but the other thing is the chat we have on Whatsapp. It’s hilarious. We’ve become one big family now. We go racing together, we’re doing business with each other, we’re all having a laugh. It’s off the scale.”
Parkin adds: “I can’t say who but three of the members were racehorse owners and had come out of the industry. They’ve jumped back in with me with Bronte and now three of them have bought their own yearlings this year. We’ve basically reignited their belief in the industry. It’s a great concept and I think more people should do it.”