What to do with NZB’s Karaka Yearling Sale
New Zealand Bloodstock’s Karaka Yearling Sale has to be all things to all people – buyers, breeders and vendors – as it is the country’s one week of the year to showcase its crop of yearlings to the market, which is predominantly international and particularly Australia.
Yesterday’s ANZ front page story about Cambridge Stud and Waikato Stud, New Zealand’s biggest breeders, calling for the NZB Book 1 sale to be reduced from three to two days saw debate raging from all parties, particularly those I spoke to in Sydney at the Inglis Classic sale.
There is no right and wrong answer in terms of how the NZB sale should be run, but what can’t be ignored is that unlike Australia, where the two auction houses Inglis and Magic Millions run an array of sales in all states of the country to suit the vast majority of horses born in that year’s foal crop, the Kiwis only get one shot at it in front of a significant pool of buyers.
This year, the first time since 2020 where international buyers were in attendance at Karaka en masse, but the domestic spend by the Kiwis was down $9 million. Rumours of impending prize-money reductions are being blamed, partly, for the lack of appetite from the locals to spend up.
That said, the state of the New Zealand racing industry can’t be blamed on NZB, but it’s not to say that things can’t be improved at the annual Karaka sale.
I think the safest path for NZB to tread is by keeping a three-day Book 1 session and reducing Book 2 – not necessarily by numbers, but by days – to two sessions, giving the Kiwi vendors the best opportunity for their horse to be seen by potential buyers.
Whether they make $20,000, $200,000 or $1 million in Book 1, it doesn’t matter. It is about the overall result. Big averages and tidy medians look appealing – and no doubt I’ll be writing about those figures at the Classic sale – but it’s the aggregate that counts in the end.
Waikato’s Mark Chittick and Cambridge’s Henry Plumptre carry clout, and justifiably so, but they also run New Zealand’s two biggest stallion farms and they must try to ensure they play their part in maintaining a viable NZB sale, which in turn supports the breeders who back their respective stallions – particularly in those tricky third, fourth and even fifth years at stud when it is unclear whether sires will or won’t make the grade.
Those yearlings need to be given the best opportunity to be sold to help pay the service fees and other considerable associated costs with breeding a thoroughbred whose commercial appeal is unknown at the time of mating.
One left-field scenario was put to me by an industry participant without any direct links to the New Zealand industry, after learning of the various opinions on the NZB sale format.
While I don’t necessarily think (for the reasons outlined above) that it is the right direction to head, his suggestion was for NZB to conduct a one-day Book 1 sale – with the aspiration of building it to two days – where New Zealand’s best yearlings are sold.
It’d be a single session of say 250 lots, enticing the biggest international buyers to lock horns with the likes of Te Akau’s David Ellis. The average, median and clearance rate would go up and those priced out of the market would go looking in perhaps in Book 2.
Crucially, all Book 2 horses would need to be on the complex at the same time as Book 1, so buyers could inspect them simultaneously.
In the hope the new-look Book 1 sale being a roaring success, it would entice the Kiwi vendors who sell a proportion of their better-credentialled horses in Australia each year, to keep them in New Zealand.
I don’t have all the answers, hence I stick to asking the questions, but it is food for thought.
Ridgmont Farm has recruited Dr Chris Phillips as its full-time on-farm veterinarian and as the Scone stud’s operations manager.
The dual role will eventually lead to Dr Phillips transitioning away from day-to-day veterinary work and into the key management role at Ridgmont on a permanent basis.
“It gives us that piece of mind knowing that if something is wrong, we have a vet of Chris’ calibre here on the farm,” Ridgmont Farm principal Andrew Dunemann said.
“We’ve invested a lot of money in broodmares and invested a lot of money into the farm, so our next step was to get someone like Chris involved in the business.
“We had an unbelievable season (getting mares in foal) and that was through Chris’ desire to go the extra yard. We did a lot of vetting on weekends and we ended up with a lot of good results for ourselves and our clients.”
Dunemann predicted Phillips would take on the operations role in a full-time capacity in the next two to three years.
“Chris was keen to steer himself out of the vetting eventually and having this new career path was appealing,” he said.
Phillips graduated from The Royal Veterinary College in 2005, leading to him undertaking medicine, surgery and reproductive internships at Rossdale and Partners in Newmarket, UK.
He spent six years at Rossdales, where he provided reproductive veterinary care for stud farms including Juddmonte, Newsells Park Stud, the Royal Studs and Cheveley Park Stud. Alongside his routine work, he was heavily involved in stallion reproduction and subfertility management.
He then spent seven years at Waikato Stud in New Zealand, prior to his move to Scone at the Hunter Equine Centre.
“He brings a lot of experience and practicality around a farm,” Dunemann said.
“The good thing about Chris, he is in the game as well. He trades and breeds horses as well, which I really like because he understands what we as breeders are trying to achieve and he knows the hits and misses, the ups and downs and everything else that goes with it.”
Ridgmont has also recruited former Segenhoe Stud and Bell River Thoroughbreds employee Stephanie McDonald as broodmare manager.
Haunui Farm’s Mark Chitty, also a veterinarian, summed up many a vendor’s frustration at the conclusion of the Karaka sale and his feelings aren’t exclusive to just New Zealand; sellers expressed similar sentiments at Magic Millions and no doubt the anguish will be felt by a few sellers at the Classic sale as well.
The well-considered Chitty was asked about the prevailing market conditions at Karaka, which led to the impact vet reports were having on the potential sale of horses.
“There’s no question there was great money here (at Karaka) for the right horses, but to have the right horses you’ve also got to have everything add up. Not only the physical type, but the vetting is critical, too,” Chitty said.
“If you’re off on a scope – mainly if you’re off on a scope – that can really hurt you.
“Maybe there needs to be a little bit of work (on how best to determine likely effect on racetrack performance), and as a veterinarian myself I’ve got my opinion on some of that stuff, as the scope (reports) do hurt.
“You can tell clients you’ve got a really nice horse and then the sale falls over.”
Chitty said a more objective assessment of the grading of horses’ scopes needs to be considered by veterinarians.
“It’s a process that’s 40 to 50 years old, done through the lens and now it’s done through the endoscopy for 30 seconds,” he said.
“Veterinarians need to take a really strong lead on this because it hurts, particularly smaller breeders. You breed one horse and you can have everything right and then the scope falls over. It’s very subjective.”
Professor Ben Ahern, an equine veterinarian with significant racing industry experience, discusses veterinary issues and AgriFutures Australia-led studies into the thoroughbred, including scoping, in episode three of ANZ’s Business Of Bloodstock podcast. Listen and subscribe here.
Sometimes we get it right.
In this column, prior to the 2022 yearling sales season, we told you about reports that the best-bred crop of Arrowfield Stud’s Dundeel (High Chaparral) were really turning heads.
The upgraded mares Dundeel had received on the back of Group 1 winners Castelvecchio and Super Seth, our spies informed us, had made a big difference to the physical make-up of his stock.
Now those two-year-olds are starting to make an impact where it counts – on the racetrack.
From just four two-year-old runners across Australasia so far this season, Dundeel has sired three winners: the dominant China Horse Club-Newgate Farm syndicate-owned and Chris Waller-trained Militarize; the Team Hawkes-prepared Fistsoffury, and the Richard Litt-trained Tavs.
The three colts won their first start at Canterbury, Pakenham and Canberra respectively and the manner of their impressive victories suggests there is much more in store for the trio and Dundeel himself.
Back on New Zealand, just one final time. Prime Thoroughbreds’ Joe O’Neill, a long-time syndicator who has experienced a great deal of success, bought his first horse at Karaka.
O’Neill, who has been a syndicator for more than two decades, bought a Reliable Man colt for $75,000 from Westbury Stud on the recommendation of agents Bill and James Mitchell.
The colt is a half-brother to the now retired stakes-winning sprinter-miler Romancer (Redwood).
O’Neill’s reasoning for never venturing to Karaka previously is purely due to time constraints.
“It’s a bad time for me because I buy at the Gold Coast and I am getting all my horses on the market (from Magic Millions) and then I am getting ready for the Classic sale, so it’s a busy time of year for us,” he said.
“I was interested in buying a Reliable Man (at Karaka) and Bill and James looked at every one of them in the sale for me.
“We worked out that we had two that we liked. We had them vetted, one got knocked out by the vet, so we finished up getting the colt who is a half-brother to Romancer, so I was pretty happy to get him.”
O’Neill always has a good horse in his “stable”, which he spreads around the country with various trainers and he hopes Russian Revolution two-year-old filly Sutherland is the next one to fly the flag for Prime Thoroughbreds.
An $80,000 Inglis Classic purchase by O’Neill from the Newgate Farm draft last year, the Tom Dabernig-trained Sutherland was given a quiet barrier trial at Geelong on January 31 in readiness for intended tilt first-up in the Talindert Stakes (Listed, 1100m) at Flemington on February 18.