Thoroughbred Racing In New Zealand


If you asked the average person in the street what they know about New Zealand, you would probably get one of two answers.

The first might be – “isn’t that where the hobbits live?” – in reference to the Lord Of the Rings trilogy and new Hobbit movie productions brought to life by acclaimed New Zealand director Sir Peter Jackson.

The second is most likely to refer to a description of beautiful beaches, rolling hills and mountains with snow capped peaks, fresh bubbling rivers and streams,  a rugby team called the All Blacks and kiwis – the native flightless bird unique to New Zealand and the term for which the locals are colloquially referred.  New Zealanders also use as slang to describe local residents.

Of course you might also occasionally hear – “isn’t that somewhere in Australia” – which, if directed to any patriotic kiwi, could result in a swift rebuke followed by a detailed lecture on both the geographical and cultural differences of both countries.

Initially populated by Polynesian Maori explorers in the early 1300’s, New Zealand was colonised by European settlers from 1769 onwards and quickly became known as a land of beguiling beauty although somewhat isolated in the depths of the Southern Pacific region.

New Zealand‘s primary industries, most notably dairy, sheep and beef farming, have paved the way for a solid economic infrastructure that has diversified in recent decades through industries such as tourism, wine production, fishing and adventure sports to compete successfully on a global scale.

With farming playing such a major role in the national economy it’s not surprising that breeding and racing thoroughbreds is also one of New Zealand’s major industries.

Racing The world 1

Some Interesting NZ Facts:

  • There are just over 4.2million people living in New Zealand however there are also 40million sheep here as well
  • New Zealand produces over 50% of all sheep-meat exports in the world
  • Tourism supplies more than 10% of jobs in New Zealand
  • For every person living in New Zealand we produce 100kg of butter and 65kg of cheese per annum
  • At 41.20 South, Wellington City is the southernmost capital city in the world
  • The most popular sports are Rugby, Golf, Netball, Football, Cricket and of course Horse Racing.



Racing and breeding horses has been a component of New Zealand’s culture for well over a hundred years with the Industry contributing just over 1% to New Zealand’s total Gross Domestic Product.

A base of seventy or so world class, commercial stud farms is supported by hundreds of smaller private breeding operations. Investment in thoroughbred breeding in New Zealand has been substantial, with more than 160 stallions on duty and close to 8,000 registered broodmares.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Sales & Export Statistics 1995-2011


Season Stallions covering 10+ mares Mares served Foals Horses exported Est. value of exports NZ yearling sales aggregates
1994-1995 190 8587 5264 2065 $31.1m
1995-1996 176 8340 5219 1987 $29.1m
1996-1997 179 7947 5161 2027 $31.2m
1997-1998 160 7718 4974 1827 $44.4m
1998-1999 146 7224 4993 2175 $48.7m
1999-2000 268 7316 4849 1937 $110m $71.7m
2000-2001 256 7738 4958 2000 $115m $68.3m
2001-2002 244 7611 5082 1914 $115m $54.6m
2002-2003 229 7204 5060 1763 $115m $47.2m
2003-2004 218 6903 4683 1797 $115m $60.4m
2004-2005 204 6848 4509 1803 $120m $69.6m
2005-2006 192 6558 4522 1831 $125m $65.7m
2006-2007 201 6623 4349 1888 $130m $81.4m
2007-2008 177 6757 4126 1670 $145m $113.4m
2008-2009 170 6349 4409 1578 $130m $75m
2009-2010 167 6493 4207 1465 $140m $93.6m
2010-2011 164 6103 4039 1607 $150m $88.1m
2011-2012 150 5700(est.) 3850(est.) 1601 $135m $77.3m

New Zealand’s stallion stocks are enjoying a renaissance period, with a host of proven stallions supported by the up-and-comers as well as new additions to the ranks, in an ultra-competitive market place.

With the current 2012 breeding season drawing to a close a quick précis of the stallion scene shows the variety of choice available to broodmare owners:

  • New Zealand based Pins, Falkirk, O’Reilly and Keeper all figure in the top 10 stallions whose progeny are racing in Hong Kong. This quartet are joined by the likes of Zabeel, Thorn Park, Pentire, Captain Rio, Stravinsky, Postponed, Savabeel, Darci Brahma and Faltaat as proven quality sires based in New Zealand.
  • Joining the New Zealand stallion ranks this year are high profile English and Irish Derby winners Pour Moi and Cape Blanco along with Juddmonte galloper Redwood, a son of High Chaparral who won the Gr. 1 Northern Dancer Stakes.
  • Other new international entrants include Echoes of Heaven, an Encosta de Lago half brother to Redoute’s Choice and Zacinto, a European Group 2 winning son of Dansili from a strong Juddmonte family.
  • 2011 New Zealand Horse of the Year Jimmy Choux is a further addition to the residents ranks whilst completing the new entrants roll are Nadeem , a son of Redoute’s Choice; Bullbars, a son of Elusive Quality and half-brother to Group One winner Helmet and Group 3 winning sprinter Dalghar, a half brother to proven sire Dalakhani and high class racehorse Daylami.

Many of New Zealand’s commercial stud farms have well established international reputations through the performance of the horses they produce, none more so than Cambridge Stud and its owner, Sir Patrick Hogan.

The stud is best known through the deeds of two stallions that have made their mark on the international racing scene.

Sir Tristram became champion sire of Australia and New Zealand on a record nine occasions and went on to sire 46 individual Group One winners and more than 130 stakes winners during his stud career.

Upon his death, his son Zabeel assumed the number one mantle at the stud and has more than matched his father’s achievements.

Zabeel has been champion sire of Australasia (combined Australia/NZ earnings) on 15 occasions including 13 in succession. He has sired 42 individual Group One winners and over 140 individual stakes winners and is now making his mark as a leading damsire with twenty two individual Group One winners.

With the introduction of Northern Hemisphere shuttle stallions that serve consecutive breeding seasons in both the North and Southern Hemispheres, the international demand for New Zealand matings has increased markedly.

Owners and Trainers throughout Asia and Australasia have long known the quality of New Zealand’s breeding industry. The success of Little Bridge and globe-trotting star So You Think at Royal Ascot in England in June further underlines the truly international quality product the Kiwis continue to produce.

New Zealand bred horses have been the dominant force in Hong Kong, winning nearly 40% of all races in the most recent season and providing more stakes winners than any other nation.

Amongst those stakes winners were 2012 Hong Kong Derby hero Fay Fay (the sixth NZ Bred in the space of 9 years to win the Classic), Tow-time Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon and star sprinter Little Bridge.

New Zealand’s major export market is Australia, where New Zealand bred horses win 23% of all Group One races and supply 5% of the horse population.

With all-year-round grazing on lush, fertile pasture, New Zealand is a cost effective place to breed and raise young thoroughbreds, with several international investors electing to base their mares in New Zealand.

Racing the world 2


New Zealand boasts a unique range of racecourses, with 51 courses scattered throughout the country, operated by 63 racing clubs. These vary from the internationally acclaimed Auckland Racing Club’s Ellerslie Racecourse, to provincial once-a-year courses such as Kumara that are very much part of the country’s rich heritage.

New Zealand races all year round, usually 5-6 days a week with in excess of 3,000 races run each year. The spring and summer periods hold the majority of the country’s prestigious meetings including the highly successful Christchurch and Auckland Cup Week Carnivals.

A vibrant jumps racing scene is also evident during the months of May-September which complements the winter flat racing season.

Some of the key statistics of thoroughbred racing in New Zealand include (for the 2011-2012 season):

  • 350 race-meetings run
  • 3061 races run
  • 32,245 total race starts from 5610 individual starters
  • $47.4m in prizemoney paid
  • Average field size of 10.7 starters per flat race

New Zealand’s racing and handicapping system is based on an individual rating scale and is modeled closely on the Australian system whereby a horses rating fluctuates depending on its most recent performance. Races are then programmed to encourage maximum participation from horses in each rating band along with a clearly defined pattern of stakes races.

Prizemoney levels in New Zealand are one of the Industry’s greatest concerns, although this is not a problem unique to New Zealand. Currently minimum prizemoney levels are set based on the handicap rating bands and the status of the meeting with an emphasis on differentiating between weekend and midweek racing.

Current minimum prizemoney levels are:

Description of Day Open Rating 85 Rating 75 Rating 65 3&4 Year Old 2 year Old Maiden
Premier $40,000 $30,000 $25,000 $20,000 $20,000 $20,000 $20,000
Feature $25,000 $15,000 $15,000 $12,500 $12,500 $12,500 $12,500
Tier2 Feature $15,000 $12,000 $10,000 $8,000 $8,000 $8,000 $8,000
Industry $12,000 $8,000 $8,000 $7,000 $7,000 $7,000 $7,000

Racing the world 3

Wagering is conducted by the New Zealand Racing Board via its TAB brand in a quasi monopolistic manner.

The New Zealand Tab operates both a pari-mutuel totalisator system as well as Fixed price win and place wagering on all domestic races as well as selected international events.

Total annual wagering turnover (including sports betting) is in excess of $1.6billion.

The Racing Board operates under an act of Parliament and provides a guaranteed return to each of the three racing codes in New Zealand (Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Greyhound). In 2012 the Thoroughbred Industry received $70million in distributions from the Board to cover prizemoney payments and other expenses associated with running the sport.

New Zealand owners and trainers regularly campaign their horses in Australia where the prize money is particularly lucrative, taking advantage of the low cost base that New Zealand provides.

A top New Zealand trainer would charge around $60 a day, with the Australian equivalent approximately double, after factoring in that the Australian dollar is approximately 30 per cent stronger.


The first National Yearling Sale was held in January 1927 and since then the sale of New Zealand thoroughbreds has attracted buyers from around the globe.

New Zealand Bloodstock is the principal thoroughbred auction house in New Zealand, with the majority of sales conducted at the company’s world-class Karaka Sales Complex, situated to the south of Auckland.

In late January each year, approximately 1500 yearlings go under the hammer at the National Yearling Sales, attracting international buyers, many of whom return each year due to the quality and success of their purchases.

The sale is split into three separate tiers – Premier, Select and Festival – with international buyers focusing their attention mainly around the Premier session each year.

New Zealand National Yearling Sales – Premier Session

(Figures in NZD$)

Year Aggregate Average Median Top Price
2012 $54.1m $154,677 $120,000 $1,750,000
2011 $65.5m $174,864 $140,000 $875,000
2010 $65.7m $181,557 $135,000 $2,000,000
2009 $53.3m $145,710 $100,000 $800,000
2008 $77.2m $199,265 $150,000 $1,450,000
2007 $56.8m $156,567 $110,000 $2,000,000
2006 $49.6m $127,072 $80,000 $2,200,000
2005 $53.4m $137,395 $90,000 $1,300,000
2004 $44.7m $111,519 $72,500 $1,100,000
2003 $34.2m $95,291 $67,500 $660,000

Racing the world 4


The top price for a yearling sold in New Zealand was set in 2000 where a colt by Zabeel out of Diamond Lover from the Cambridge Stud draft went to a final bid of NZ$3.6million. Named Don Eduardo he went on to capture the Group 1 AJC Derby in Sydney before returning to a stud career in New Zealand.

As well as the National Yearling Sales Series, New Zealand Bloodstock conducts a number of successful thoroughbred auctions each year offering a range of quality stock including Ready to Run Two-Year-Olds, tried and untried racehorses, broodmares and weanlings.

Additionally there are numerous opportunities to purchase horses privately, with New Zealand owners and breeders accustomed to selling much of their premium stock and are open to offers.


The strength and vitality of the New Zealand Racing and Breeding Industry is sustained by the performance of New Zealand bred horses internationally each year.

Australia has long been the proving ground for any horse carrying the (NZ) tag however due to the globalization of world racing, jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, South Africa and the United Kingdom now feature a predominance of New Zealand bred horses winning major races.

Some of New Zealand’s recent performers to proudly carry the (NZ) moniker on a global stage include:

SO YOU THINK – Purchased at the 2008 New Zealand Bloodstock Premier Yearling sale by legendary Australian trainer Bart Cummings, the son of Epsom Derby winner High Chaparral won back to back WS Cox Plates in Australia before being sold to Coolmore Stud and shipped to the Irish stables of Aidan O’Brien in 2010.

He won 10 Group One races in a 23 start career including the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh in 2011 and 2012. He is now retired to stud in Australia.

AMBITIOUS DRAGON – The son of Pins has scored consecutive Hong Kong Horse of the Year titles in 2011 and 2012 and is rated one of the best to have raced in the region. He has won 11 of 22 races and over HK$41m in prize money with 4 Hong Kong Group 1 successes including the 2011 Hong Kong Derby and the 2012 Hong Kong Gold Cup.

LITTLE BRIDGE – This phenomenal sprinting talent won his first 5 races in a row in Hong Kong. In April 2012 he won consecutive stakes races before travelling to the United Kingdom and stunning a world racing audience with victory over 21 rivals in the Group 1 Royal Ascot Kings Stand Stakes.

OCEAN PARK – Became just the sixth horse in Australasian racing history to win 4 Group 1 races in a row with victory in the 2012 WS Cox Plate – a race recognized as the weight-for-age championship of the Southern Hemisphere.

MUFHASA – Voted New Zealand Horse of the Year in 2009 and again in 2012, the son of Pentire has won a remarkable 9 Group 1 races in New Zealand and Australia from a 54 race career.

The strength and durability of the New Zealand thoroughbred is best demonstrated via the platform of Australasia’s biggest and most well known race – the Melbourne Cup. The iconic two mile handicap attracts an international field and world-wide audience on the first Tuesday in November each year and is a race that has been dominated by New Zealand bred’s with 28 of the last 50 won by horses with (NZ) next to their name.

Racing the world 5

Find out more about New Zealand Racing

A number of organisations exist in New Zealand that can provide helpful information on all facets of the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.

They include:

  • New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing – the overall governing body that is responsible for presenting the thoroughbred racing product to the nation. It represents the interests of the industry stakeholders whilst providing equine training and education opportunities along with fostering interest and participation in the industry (
  • New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association – the recognized industry body for all breeders and breeding associated activities dedicated to encouraging, promoting and advancing all matters pertaining to the production and improvement of the Thoroughbred and the interests of Thoroughbred breeders (
  • New Zealand Thoroughbred Marketing – established to communicate and actively market the attributes of the New Zealand thoroughbred industry to both domestic and international markets (
  • New Zealand Racing Board – the wagering arm of the New Zealand racing industry (


Racing hte world 6