9th March 2006
The National Yearling Sales have been part of the New Zealand thoroughbred industry for so long it’s difficult to imagine the concept ever needed development.
Yet for the first seventy years or so that thoroughbred horse were bred or raced in New Zealand there was no national sale. During this period Pyne, Gould, Guinness conducted a sale in Christchurch each November, and several North Island studs held annual sales, some of them very substantial and successful.
Then, in the early 1920s Wright, Stephenson & Co. gave Charles Robertson the task of setting up a specialized stud stock department, particularly for sheep and cattle, but also horses. In 1924 the company sent him to North and South America in search of new livestock markets. Sometime during this period, Mr Robertson came up with the idea of a single national thoroughbred sale and, more importantly, pursued it.
The national yearling sale concept was welcomed by breeders in both islands, and generously supported by Wellington Racing Club, which made its facilities and land available at nominal cost. On 21 January 1927 the idea became a reality, with the inaugural “Annual New Zealand Thoroughbred Yearling Sales” at Trentham racecourse.
For the first four years separate catalogues were issued by the two firms conducting the sale, but from 1931 Wright, Stephenson, and later Wrightson Bloodstock gradually assumed the dominant role, although Pyne, Gould, Guinness remained joint auctioneers until 1979. (The two companies completed an historic merger late last year.) Wrightson continued until 1996 when the business and the magnificent Karaka Sales Centre, opened in 1988, were purchased by New Zealand Bloodstock Ltd.
Australians Ken Austin and Reg Inglis fulfilled the auctioneering duties for the first eleven years of the National Sale, until 1938 when Charles Robertson took up the gavel. He auctioned alone until 1949 when he was joined by the celebrated commentator Dave Clarkson and Bill Paterson, later the curator of the National Racing Museum. Along the way Messrs Austin and Robertson also helped to establish the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.
For its first two decades the Sale grew steadily rather than spectacularly, but by 1946 was ready to benefit from post-war prosperity. That year 270 lots sold for a total of more than 152,000 guineas (about $10 million in today’s dollars). Las year 1029 yearlings sold for almost $70 million.
Right from the beginning the New Zealand National Yearling Sale has been a source of outstanding performers. The inaugural sale produced Concentrate, bought for 800 guineas and the winner of the Auckland and Wellington Cups, and third in the 1931 Melbourne Cup. Phar Lap and New Zealand Derby winner Honour came out of the 1928 sale, and later graduates included Royal Chief, Defaulter, Beau Vite, Rising Fast and Tulloch. Among more recent stars sold at Karaka are Octagonal, Happyanunoit, Our Maizcay, Tycoon Lil, Starcraft, Xcellent and Vengeance of Rain.