Cheveley Park Stud

Filed on 8 Jun 2006 @ 09:09

In the latest in his regular series, Ed Prosser charts the revival of one of Britain's leading studs - Cheveley Park.

In the summer of 1975, Ken Mackey and business partner David Thompson - founder of the Hillsdown Holdings food conglomerate - stepped up their involvement in racing by purchasing Cheveley Park Stud, a property alongside Duchess Drive, the picturesque tree-lined thoroughfare linking Newmarket and the village of Cheveley.

Although few thoroughbred farms in Britain boast a more illustrious history, the 280-acre stud that Mackey and his partner purchased was a pale imitation of its former glory.

David Thompson's wife, Patricia, who has gone on to be the stud's great ambassador, was to recall: "I remember the bad old days when we bought Cheveley Park Stud in 1975. It was quite pathetic really, we had a couple of old mares who came with the place and (the stallion) Forlorn River, who was (23) at the time."

Regal connections

The stud's previous owners, the Stafford-Smith family - whose son Clive has gone on to be a famous human rights lawyer - had got into financial difficulties and had needed to add a market garden and herd of cattle to help ends meet at the once great farm.

Albert Stafford-Smith inherited the stud in 1942 from trainer Bob Sherwood, to whom he had been secretary. After Stafford-Smith's death in 1958 his son Richard took over the farm and it was he who sold it to the Thompsons and Mackey in 1975.

England's first monarch is said to have bred horses at the stud

King Aethelstan, England's first monarch, is said to have bred horses when owning the property in Anglo-Saxon times, and various of his successors have also been associated with Cheveley Park include Canute, Edward the Confessor, William the Conqueror, Edward I and Edward II.

In the early 1800s the stud was put on the map as a thoroughbred nursery by the fifth Duke of Rutland and his wife, whose name was given to Duchess Drive.

Colonel Harry McCalmont took over in the late 19th century and a magnificent mansion, which no longer exists, was built in 1892. McCalmont bred the great stallion Isinglass at Cheveley Park and a famous box, built for when he commenced stallion duties in 1896, still stands while the site of his grave has also been located.

In those days nearby Banstead Manor Stud on Broad Green in Cheveley, now owned by Khalid Abdulla, formed part of the Cheveley Park Estate. McCalmont died in 1902 and from 1921 trainer Bob Sherwood owned the stud until his death 21 years later - seven stallions stood there at one time.

Expansion the key

From the word go, Mackey - who died in 1983 - and the Thompsons set about reviving the once-famous stud.

Cheveley Park, with its red painted boxes and superbly-maintained paddocks, now extends to around 970 acres. Sandwich Stud was bought from Brook Holliday in 1986 and it is the base for many of the Thompson's top mares, while the former Strawberry Hill Stud was acquired from Ann Sutton at around the same time.

From the word go, Mackey and the Thompsons set about reviving the stud

A further 300 acres were added to the estate in 1997 after Warren Hill and Ashley Heath Studs were purchased from Gerald Carroll when, combined, they were known as Warren Park.

And as the estate gradually grew back to its former glory so, too, did the Cheveley Park staff and equine teams.

Bloodstock agent David Minton, helped by a young Anthony Bromley, had served as a consultant to the Thompsons until Northumberland-born Chris Richardson, who had been overseeing the Niarchos family's American stud interests, became managing director on 1 August 1987.

He has an able deputy in John Marsh, who arrived in the autumn of 1988 after spells with pinhooker Hamish Alexander, Taylor Made Farms in America and at Woodditton Stud in Newmarket, and is assisted by a team that includes Andrew Snell and Matthew Sigsworth and a board of directors that features Sir Michael Stoute.

They are backed by a high-class veterinary team, that was originally headed by Peter Rossdale, and - leaving no stone unturned - a Kentucky-based agronomist travels over to assess the soil make-up.

Pivotal moment

The stallion line-up is a far-cry from just the 23-year-old Forlorn River that the Thompsons inherited in 1975.

They had a popular first commercial stallion in the speedy Music Boy, who had won the Gimcrack Stakes at York and King George Stakes at Goodwood for Mackey.

The likes of Never So Bold, Polar Falcon and Primo Dominie went on to prove commercially popular but Cheveley Park now has a stallion that can hold its own with the world's best.

Pivotal has been the European stallion phenomenon of recent years

Pivotal - whose stud career began in 1997 for a fee of just £6,000 - has been the European stallion phenomenon of recent years. His ability to produce top performers from seemingly modest mares has been startling and he now stands for a fee of £65,000 with Darley having bought a quarter share for a multi-million sum last year.

One of his sons, Nunthorpe Stakes winner Kyllachy, is on the Cheveley Park roster and made a big sales impression with his first-crop yearlings and is responsible for a respectable haul of winners so far, while the home-grown Medicean has already produced the Group 1 winners Nannina and Almerita from his first crop.

Veterans Prince Sabo and Groom Dancer, both solid, established sires, home-bred Carnival Dancer, five-time Group 1 winner Starcraft and Where Or When complete the line-up of well-managed stallions whose books are strictly controlled.

A true flagbearer

The stallions are supported by an ever-improving band of around 120 mares - many such as Russian Rhythm bought as yearlings - and they have produced an impressive group of winners.

Entrepreneur, the 2,000 Guineas winner of 1997, changed hands as a yearling for 600,000gns while other Group One winners sold by the stud include Megahertz, First Trump, Mr Brooks, Soviet Line, Port Lucaya and Jovial.

Many other home-grown performers have carried the stud's own patriotic red, white and blue colours at the highest level including Nannina, Peeress, Medicean, Red Bloom, Regal Rose, Chorist and of course, Pivotal.

There are also around 90 horses in training, split between 11 different trainers, and Cheveley Park Stud, now a very different operation from the run-down nursery purchased by the Thompsons 31 years ago, is a true flagbearer for the British breeding industry.

Filed on 8 Jun 2006 @ 09:09