David Ellis, Karaka’s biggest buyer, blames IRD for bleeding bloodstock sales
By Suze Metherell
Feb. 5 (BusinessDesk) – David Ellis, the biggest spender at New Zealand’s premiere Karaka horse sales this year, says
the tax department is stifling new investment in the bloodstock industry with its interpretation of depreciation rules.
The value of yearling sales at Karaka in South Auckland have fallen in each of the past six years, reaching $69.7
million last month, down from $111.2 million in 2008. That’s below the average $83.9 million in the past seven sales.
The number of catalogued horses has fallen 12 percent in that time and actual lots bought are down 18 percent.
Ellis, principle of Waikato-based Te Akau Racing stables, spent $6.8 million on 43 horses at Karaka last month, almost
$3 million more than the second-largest buyer.
He was behind an investor syndicate that last year lost a High Court case against the Inland Revenue Department over
depreciation on a colt that disappointed as a potential breeder and ended up being gelded. Ellis told BusinessDesk that
IRD needs to take some of the blame for the decline in sales because of a lack of clarity over tax on horses bought for
“It is so uncertain on what you can and can’t do, and this is a big statement from Karaka’s biggest buyer,” Ellis said.
“We are desperate as an industry for government to clarify tax issues, for example Michael Cullen increased depreciation
on blood stock to encourage investment,” he said. “But the legislation is so unclear no one knows what to do.”
Investment syndicates, such as in the Ellis case, typically purchase a horse with the intention of breeding but to
establish pedigree and reputation they first put it on the racing circuit. Last year’s High Court ruling held that
because the syndicate had no previous breeding record IRD could disallow any deductions until foals had been sired.
“Whether that’s fair or not, no one is able to write off the costs unless they have a pre-existing breeding business,”
Andrew Babbage, a tax partner at Deloitte, told BusinessDesk. Those deductions weren’t available to one-off syndicates,
which would potentially bring in new investors.
“If you’re an existing breeder and you purchase a horse the purchase is preparatory to a breeding business, and the
continuing of the established breeding,” Babbage said.
This year’s top price paid was $800,000 for a Cambridge Stud colt with blood lines from Fastnet Rock and Katie Lee, less
than half the top price last year of $1.97 million for a Curraghmore Stud colt from Fastnet Rock and Celebria. The
record price paid at Karaka was $3.6 million in 2000 for Don Eduardo, sired by Zabeel via Diamond Lover.
The clearance rate this year rose to 78 percent and the median price paid was $45,000.
Ellis, whose Te Akau Racing also has stables in Singapore, said the global economic downturn had also contributed to the
tightening in sales, as had a high kiwi dollar against the Australian dollar.
“Naturally the Australians did not spend with the same freedom as in the past, but even given that, sales were still
successful – with some alarm bells centred on fresh investment in the industry,” he said.
“New Zealand industry still had good results, for example at VRC Oaks (at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse) Kirramosa
won that race,” he said. “We’ve won international races in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia. The industry still performs
well but could perform a lot better if we clarified the tax issues.”