The richest horse race in the country - the Karaka Million - will be held tomorrow as a curtain raiser for the national yearling sales which start on Monday.

To qualify for the race with a $550,500 first prize the 2-year-old horses must have been sold the previous year at the sales held at Karaka.

The final field of 14 horses is determined by prize money won.

Te Akau Stud owner David Ellis has the favourite, Warhorse, which he bought at last year's sale for $100,000 for a client in Singapore.

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"I've seen it [racing] become a life-changing experience for so many people and there's just an amazing amount of thrill to have," Ellis says.

A good race can help people who are selling horses at the auctions that come from the same lineage.

"And it gives people confidence to invest in stables that have a horse in the race."

The race is a joint venture between New Zealand Bloodstock, which runs the sales, and Auckland Racing Club.

New Zealand Bloodstock's Petrea Vela says the race is run as an incentive for people to come to the Karaka auction and buy horses.

"It's a great race meeting, it's great entertainment in its own right but it's also a brilliant way for us to welcome all our overseas buyers to New Zealand and to Karaka ... they get a great look at last year's crop and get excited about the week ahead."

Nationally the turnover of bets and prize money is down, Vela says.

"It's important that prize money levels are high because that's what keeps the wheels turning, that's what rewards the owners and keeps them investing in the industry."

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Prize money paid in 2009/10 was down 15 per cent on the previous year at $49.6 million, while total bets were down 0.4 per cent at $463.9 million.

There has been a change at the administration level with new initiatives promised to make racing more lucrative and attract owners and the racing public, Vela says.

"So hopefully they will start to take effect and we will see a change and a boost in confidence in our domestic market," she says.