The vibrant Karaka Million twilight races at Ellerslie on Sunday herald the start of festivities, with Prime Minister Bill English set to officially open Karaka 2017 on Monday morning.
A total of 1347 yearlings will go under the hammer across three sales sessions as local and international buyers look to secure a future champion from the cream of the New Zealand thoroughbred crop.
One vendor that has been inundated with pre-sale visitors is the Matamata based powerhouse Waikato Stud, which has been accorded the title of the leading vendor at the Sale for the past three years. Principal Mark Chittick admits he is looking forward to the start of the selling action on Monday.
"It's been a hectic time since well before Christmas, but now we're really in countdown mode to the start of the sale," he said.
"I actually prefer this time as it means we can concentrate on the one core job which is to present and sell our draft. Before Christmas there is just so much going on as you work through each horse's preparation but now is when it all comes together and the action takes place.
"We have over ninety horses to sell next week with most of them owned by the stud, so the focus is on finding a buyer for every one of them."
For the Chittick family, and those involved with Waikato Stud, the 2017 sale will mark the end of an era as the final yearlings of their late champion sire O'Reilly are put through the auction ring.
"I guess it will hit home a little when the sale is over as O'Reilly has been such a fundamental contributor to the growth and development of Waikato Stud," said Chittick.
"We're not dwelling too much on that as his presence will still be felt for many years to come through his success as a broodmare sire while next year we will have the first progeny from his son Sacred Falls to offer which is very exciting."
While O'Reilly has played his part in the development of the Stud's legacy his associate sires Savabeel and Pins have also been instrumental in the success story.
"Savabeel has been phenomenal and his record is simply outstanding," noted Chittick. "His progeny are winning in our key markets, at all ages and over any distance.
"In the past couple of weeks he's had a Group One winning three-year-old colt over a mile [Levin Classic winner Hall Of Fame], a 3200 metre stakes winning mare [Wellington Cup winner Savaria] and he is likely to have one of the favourites for the two-year-old Karaka Million on Sunday [Hasahalo].
"Pins has also been magnificent and he continues to produce winners week in and week out."
While Chittick is hard pressed to nominate a favourite lot from their impressive draft at Karaka he does lean towards an impeccably bred filly as his tip for one to watch during the sale.
"Our Savabeel filly from multiple Group One winner Daffodil, Lot 109, is a real standout and could well be our best for this year," he said.
"She is simply stunning and has received a lot of attention from the people who have been to the farm prior to the sale.
"We are expecting her to be very popular with those buyers who are seeing her for the first time over the next few days."
Sir Patrick Hogan's Cambridge Stud will be vying to reclaim the mantle of leading vendor, with a quality offering at this year's sale.
Prior to Curraghmore claiming that title in 2013, followed by the recent dominance of Waikato Stud, Cambridge Stud had dominated the vendor aggregate list for 31 consecutive years.
"We have a draft that features a variety of the leading stallions in Australasia from the best maternal families that Cambridge Stud can offer," Sir Patrick Hogan said.
"We haven't left a single yearling at home from our 2015 foal crop with every one of them at the sale so we expect the breeding community to be excited about what we have to offer."
Hogan is hesitant to single out any particular yearling from his draft although he has an inkling that Lot 436, the filly by leading freshman sire Power from the Street Sense mare Superefficient along with Lot 130, the High Chaparral filly from Diamond Like will both attract their fair share of attention.
"Lot 436 is as nice a filly as you would find and is by a young stallion that has made a sensational start in Ireland and now New Zealand," he remarked.
"The Diamond Like filly is an absolute star and it wouldn't surprise me if she ended up in the top four or five that are sold."
Gordon Cunningham's Curraghmore has been another of the leading sellers at Karaka in recent years with a colt by legendary English racehorse Frankel set to attract international attention this year.
Frankel won all 14 of his career starts including 10 at Group One level. While his racetrack exploits were a hard act to follow, Frankel has made an outstanding start to his new career at stud.
Last year the sole Frankel yearling at the Karaka sale fetched $1.3 million, when secured by a syndicate of international buyers. Cunningham expects similar offshore interest in this year's colt that will go through the ring as Lot 181 on the first day of the sale.
"He is a super colt who oozes class," he said.
"He's bred on the same cross as Soul Striking, Frankel's Group One winning filly in Japan, being out of a Monsun mare. He is a very athletic type who catches the eye every time you see him.
"We also have some wonderful Fastnet Rock colts while I have a special feeling about our Declaration Of War colt, Lot 88, who is from a top family and is a real looker."Cunningham is proud of Curraghmore's record but believes the success of the Karaka sale is the quality of horses on offer across the board, from a wide-spread of breeders.
"I think what buyers have to remember is that every time they come to Karaka they can walk into any barn, any draft and buy a world-class horse," he said.
"Just look at the record of this sale. It compares favourably against anywhere else in the world. You can buy Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate and Derby winners — horses that can compete anywhere against any opposition.
"Karaka is just so unique and it's more than just a sale. It's a facility and an event that draws people together who love horses and racing and provides the opportunity to socialise and enjoy hospitality of the highest quality.
"It's something that we should be proud of and I can't wait for it to happen again this year." - NZ Racing Desk