It's a Karaka sales week like never before but the industry's biggest players are going into thoroughbred racing's most important week with renewed confidence.
The sale of more than 900 thoroughbred yearlings starts on Sunday at 1pm, with the well-documented challenges of no overseas buyers at the sale grounds because of travel restrictions, meaning the industry is entering uncharted waters.
The pressure has gone on vendors to provide improved video and communication on their yearlings for those who can view them only online, on New Zealand-based agents to man the phones and on New Zealand Bloodstock to provide a real-time bidding platform for buyers who can't be at Karaka.
So with those boxes all ticked, how do a cross-section of the industry's bigger players think Karaka 2021 will fare?
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Tony Pike (trainer and regular Karaka top-end buyer)
"I don't think the bottom line will be greatly different from last year. There are a few potential big lots missing, with some of the studs sending horses to other sales as well, but there is still some great horses there. So there is no doom and gloom from me. I think it will be a good sale, even with obvious challenges, and the Kiwis and Hong Kong buyers were pretty quiet at the Gold Coast sale last week, so I think they will be active."
Mark Chittick (Waikato Stud)
"We have less horses than previous years because we simply couldn't get the staff in the country to prepare them all. But one thing doesn't change, and this is the best place in the world to breed and rear horses, or any farm animals for that matter. So there will be a lot of lovely horses there and I think the sale will hold up because of that quality."
Dean Hawthorne (Agent)
"People like myself and Guy Mulcaster [the agent who bought Winx] won't be able to be there because of travel restrictions from Australia but we will still be buying for his owners online. The challenge of not having overseas buyers on the grounds is often Aussie trainers go to Karaka to buy one or two horses and buy three or four. That type of buying may not happen as much online but the quality is still really good."
Mark Baker (Hallmark Stud)
"Personally, we have one of the best drafts we have ever taken to the sales, so I am going there confident. The bottom line is trainers need horses, and nice horses that scope and X-ray well will be bought. There is no hiding those sort of horses at the sales because people want them and that will be the case again."
Danny Rolston (New Zealand Bloodstock)
"The vendors have stood up to the new challenges and we have some exciting first-season stallions. We have done our bit with the new website, and with no overseas buyers on the grounds, I think that presents opportunities for local buyers to get horses that may not have been in their price range last year. That sums it up — this sale is an opportunity."
David Ellis (Te Akau, consistently top buyer's rankings)
"We will be very active because I have loved plenty of the stock I have seen. I think the sale will go well because good things are starting to happen in New Zealand racing and we have shown we can win Group 1 races in Australia with these horses."