While thoroughbred horse racing flies under the radar of the mainstream media for 51 weeks of the year, the Karaka Millions and the National Yearling Sales bring dramatic attention to thoroughbred horse industry for a few days each year.

Both events are held at the NZ Bloodstock sales complex in Karaka.

Two $1 million dollar races staged at Ellerslie on the Saturday of Auckland Anniversary weekend, shine the spotlight on the glitz and glamour of the two richest races in the country.

The best two and three year olds to go through the Karaka sales ring, come back to meet at New Zealand's premier racecourse to chase a pot of gold.

Twelve months ago, local Gate Pa trainer Jim Pender almost pulled off one on the biggest upsets in the history of the Karaka Millions, when The Reel Beel failed by just a neck on the line to nail the big prize of some 550K.

Racing and golf, which are often considered rich-men's (or women's) sports, are great levelers, as it's not the richest person that wins but the best on the day.

However since 1927, the rich and powerful have been attempting to buy their way to thoroughbred racing glory at the National Yearling Sales.

For 70 years, the cream of New Zealand bloodstock went through the Trentham sales ring before the move north to the Karaka sales complex in 1988.

The best Australian and New Zealand owners and trainers  have been joined in recent decades by their counterparts from Asia.

"Dreams for Sale" has long been the catch cry of the National Yearling Sales.

In earlier times, it was an owners aspiration to buy a Melbourne Cup winner, that saw the big Australian trainers come to the sales with open cheque books.

Legendary Melbourne Cup trainer Bart Cummings looked at the future racehorse, buying the majority of his 12 Melbourne Cup winners at Trentham and Karaka.

In more recent times, the accent has become more on horses that can run out a mile as a youngster before developing into a genuine middle-distance contender, for the riches on offer over the ditch.

As the focus on the type of horse required to win races has changed, so has horse ownership in the country.

While there have always been the rich and powerful that have chased their aspirations at the National Yearling Sales, in the 1950s, 1960's and 1970's many of the horses in the New Zealand were raced by owner-trainers.

There was hardly a sheep and cattle farmer that didn't have a horse or two and it didn't take much to move into horse racing.

Farmers such as Te Puke's Tom Nelson, and later Bob McCosh, would load their horse float up and think nothing of traversing the country in pursuit of thoroughbred victory’s.

The 70s saw a rise in horse-racing partnerships, where four or five mates would band together to buy or lease a race horse to place with a licensed trainer.

The arrival of horse racing syndication opened the doors to the average punter to share in horse racing ownership.

Syndicator’s such as Te Akau, Fortuna and Go Racing has changed the face of horse ownership in our country.

A large number of people can be gathered together to pool their funds, which gives the local syndicators the opportunity to compete with the overseas buyers for quality blood stock.

Sideline Sid can testify to being able to enjoy the highs and lows of ownership, in a syndicate that has 43 individual owners, which makes ownership available to a wide audience. In a century, horseracing has gone from the ‘sport of kings’ to the ‘sport of the people’.


Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian