Since the 1980s when the late Wayne Francis brought a large number of well bred/performed Australian mares for his breeding partnerships, the Australian influence on the New Zealand harness racing and breeding scene has been slowly growing.
The biggest contribution initially was from the Overtrick mare in Pleasant Evening who is the grand-dam of the outstanding race horse and now champion sire, Christian Cullen.
As well as the Australian mares at stud in New Zealand, several trainers with Mark Purdon being the most active, have been raiding the Australian yearling sales lately with outstanding success.
Horses such as Fly Like An Eagle, Smolda, Border Control, Willow and Follow The Stars have all made Kiwi trainers and owners sit up and take notice and re-evaluate the worth of the Australian bred product.
Another sign of that growing influence is the importation to New Zealand of some well bred high performing race fillies by some of New Zealand's leading commerical breeders.
One of those fillies to quickly make her mark in New Zealand is the very smart Totally Western mare, La Joconde p2 1:59h (1730m) $153,285, whose seven two and three-year-old wins included the $100,000 West Australian Sales Classic for three-year-old fillies.
Bought as a yearling by leading West Australian trainer Gary Hall for $7,000, she was given to his wife to be, Kiwi Karen Stephens, as an engagement present.
On La Joconde's retirement from the track, the Halls decided the breeding side of the industry was not for them. At the same time, Karen Hall's brother-in-law, Tony Dickinson of Alta Breeding fame in New Zealand, was on the lookout in Australia for a quality filly for his commerical breeding broodmare band.
They quickly joined forces on a foal for foal arrangement with La Joconde and she was then relocated to the Alta Breeding establishment at Waiau Pa in New Zealand.
Sent to Courage Under Fire in her initial season at stud, the resultant colt foal named Alta Orlando was sold by Tony Dickinson through the 2013 Australasian Classic yearling sale for $35,000 to long time Mark Purdon client, Neil Pilcher.
Raced by Pilcher in partnership with thoroughbred hall of fame trainer Jim Gibbs and his wife Anne, Alta Orlando has taken the New Zealand two-year-old racing scene by storm in the last six weeks. What has made the last three wins so impressive is that Alta Orlando is far from the finished racing product, having none of the ringcraft normally associated with top two-year-olds.
His win in last weekends $200,000 PGG Sales Series race had all those characteristics on display as he ran about at the start, settling back before looping the field a lap from home and holding the smart Say My Name at bay in the straight in 2:20.9, a mile rate of 1:56.2 for 1950 meters. His stake earnings already stand at $141,749 and he looks a horse to follow next season at three.