On the eve of a hectic week, top trainer Graeme Rogerson reflects on New Zealand’s crucial role in the lucrative global thoroughbred industry.
The 90th National Yearling Sales beginning at Karaka on Monday again brings welcome attention from all over the world to our unique position in the global thoroughbred industry.
The valuable export earnings that accrue from the six days of selling with the sales' gross revenue totalling a staggering annual average of $75 million over the past five years, is impressive for any industry.
For me, the sales are a hectic time and it's not often I get to reflect how vital they are to the reputation and welfare of our wider racing industry.
That rich tapestry began more than 150 years ago when our forebears arrived to mark out our towns on paper, with the Irish among them ensuring there was always a St Patrick's church on the map, plus a racecourse cut from the bush on the towns' fringes.
The sales this year have a special flavour where a full brother to last year's Melbourne Cup winner, Prince of Penzance, is up for sale, both bred on the lush pastures of the Waikato.
It was that very same grass that first drew Aussie icon, Bart Cummings, to the sales in the 1950s, contributing eight New Zealand bred Melbourne Cup winners to his incredible winning tally of 12.
That's the top end of the industry and over the holiday period, I have raced my horses at a number of country venues like Wairoa, Gore and Pirongia where the effort to score a winner is as intense as at Ellerslie or Flemington.
For the first time, I took a team of eight to the West Coast and the Kumara Gold Nuggets meeting. Though missing out on the gold, I scored with a couple and had a superb racing and social experience.
These small country clubs play a hugely positive role in their local communities and it's not always all about the money. The voluntary effort and teamwork required to get their venues in showroom condition for, most likely, one race day each year, is outstanding.
When I first arrived on course at Kumara a few days before the races, 86-year-old committee member, Joan Meates, with a paint brush in each hand, was swishing up the running rail. She was assisted by her daughter and granddaughter, her son is the club's president and her brother has also been on the committee for more than 60 years.
Every racing club fortunately has a Meates family and it is their focus on ensuring a safe, enjoyable and fun day out for their community which makes racing in New Zealand unique.
We also participated in a local fundraising night in Greymouth for the Blaketown Rugby Club's Pike Memorial Scholarship, honouring their three club members killed at the Pike River coal mine in 2010. We helped them raise more than $6000, once again highlighting the strong grassroots connection racing has with its communities.
Coal mining and horses have a long, shared history.
On the Coast, underground mines kept teams of pit ponies to haul out the trucks of coal to the surface, fostering an historic affection for the horse that remains there today.
Greymouth's most famous horse was 1952 Melbourne Cup winner, Dalray, owned by local Cyril Neville, a fruit and vegetable merchant, having had its Cup lead-up races at Westport and Greymouth prior to being shipped to Melbourne.
I have also raced horses at both venues though not my 2007 Melbourne Cup winner, Efficient.
The Coast's other notable contribution to racing is the five Skelton brothers, who dominated the jockeys' premiership in the sixties and seventies.
The racing industry in New Zealand is enjoying a resurgence but there remains a threat on the scene that is sucking an estimated $20 million annually from our sporting sector. We are concerned about the use of offshore betting websites and their impact on the integrity and finances of our industry and other sporting codes.
A Government Working Group reported in November last year, recommending the idea of legislation that would require all offshore gambling operators to pay a fee, an 'Offshore Bookmaker Fee' to the New Zealand Racing Board on all bets originating from New Zealand.
The issues involved here are quite complex and multi-faceted. To quote the minister: "To successfully implement the recommendations of the Working Group will not be easy. The reality is we are trying to create a legislative tool with an extra-territorial reach, which is by no means simple."
Our industry is getting behind the minister on this as recovery of the $20 million will likely be used to increase stakes and lead a 'domino' effect of more horses racing locally and importantly, more jobs in places like Wairoa, Gore and Kumara.
This ambition of regulating offshore bookies is in place in many countries, including in Victoria, Australia, where the increased revenue is helping lead a racing resurgence there.
I have more than 1000 owners as partners in my business and this has been built on my belief that whether the share of ownership in a horse is large or small, the winning feeling remains huge.
Karaka 2016 is exciting for me as I have lined up four or five Savabeel progeny to buy. I am all for a resurging racing industry in New Zealand and getting that winning feeling going viral.
*Graeme Rogerson trains at Tuhikaramea, near Hamilton and is New Zealand's most successful thoroughbred trainer, with more than 5000 winners across the globe, mostly in New Zealand.