A significant boost in lower-end harness racing stakes couldn't have come at a better time than on the eve of today's Karaka yearling sales.
The annual sales kick off three days of standardbred yearling auctions, with the last two in Christchurch on Wednesday and Thursday.
While the Karaka sale will be strong because of the rich catalogue and smaller number of entries, any help is welcomed by vendors as the industry has been through tough times.
That help arrived on Friday with Harness Racing New Zealand announcing an extra $1.4 million to be released to the industry for stakes.
The money comes as the TAB lifts its total distribution to the three codes because of better-than-expected turnover results.
HRNZ will spread its share across all clubs and it will see the minimum stake rise from $4500 to $5000.
While those aren't the sort of stakes that gets buyers digging deep at the sales it is a positive sign and at least puts the money into the pockets of the owners and trainers struggling at the lower end of the scale.
That is refreshingly opposed to the massive boosting of major Cups stakes as the government-based funding did temporarily a few seasons ago, leaving the little guy out in the cold.
With strong export markets to Perth and Sydney, where stakes are set to stay high, there is plenty of upside to buying harness horses in today's market - particularly at a sale like today's, where there will be plenty of interest in the top 10-15 lots but a suspect middle market.
Harness racing sales have tended to be that way in recent years, with the few really big players all focusing on the same lots, the bigger, good-looking colts.
There has been renewed interest in fillies from the best families as well, but anything even viewed as being slightly unfashionable or without a recent star to update the bloodlines has provided value.
Of course, trotting-bred yearlings remain the ugly ducklings of sales day, providing the greatest value overall if they have any ability.
So that middle market, for horses between $40,000 and $75,000, could be reliant on the Australians, who are expected to be there in force.
The big star of sales day looks certain to be stallion Bettor's Delight, whose stock has been sensational on the track over the past three years.
Because he leaves few bold and beautiful yearlings - unlike arch rival Christian Cullen - Bettor's Delight has rarely been the sales day hero in recent years.
Buyers must surely be awake to that now, and with a huge number of yearlings from top mares in today he will provide the backbone of the sale.
As usual, Art Major and Christian Cullen will provide some real lookers and early-goers, while Mach Three and American Ideal will have athletic types on show.
The sale also sees the first crop from former controversial pin-up boy Changeover and a sprinkling of babies by trotting star Muscles Yankee, Angus Hall and Love You.
The sale begins at 11am.By Michael Guerin Email Michael