A surge of overseas interest in New Zealand thoroughbreds is boosting the fortunes of provincial towns in areas associated with the industry such as Waikato, Bayleys Real Estate says.
The surge in interested investors includes Chinese billionaire Mr Zhang Yuesheng, the owner of Chinese conglomerate Yulong Investment Group, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand cricketer Brendon McCullum, Ryman Healthcare founder Kevin Hickman and Harvey Norman founder Gerry Harvey.
The New Zealand thoroughbred racing and breeding industry contributes about $1.2 billion to the economy each year, just behind the wine ($1.5bn) and fishing ($1.6bn) industries.
Boutique thoroughbred breeder Justine Sclater, who also works for Bayleys Real Estate, said high profile buyers from China were helping to draw more people into the racing sector.
"In China, horse racing is not legalised so being able to own and race a horse is very much a status symbol.
"New Zealand offers the Chinese the opportunity to do this and we've seen them recently make large investments in stallions and breeding stock."
Interest from the Arabian peninsula in New Zealand's thoroughbred sector is also high, Ms Sclater said.
"One [investor] is Qatar Racing, they're probably the biggest investor in the world in thoroughbred racing."
In the 2016/2017 racing season New Zealand exported 1771 thoroughbred race horses, worth over $138 million.
NZ 'punching above its weight'
Ms Sclater said foreign investors were drawn to New Zealand because it was recognised as an excellent thoroughbred nursery.
"We're just continually punching above our weight and perform at the highest level."
And this came from a relatively small foal crop, she said.
"For example in New Zealand we probably represent only five or five and a half percent of their racing population ... but then the New Zealand thoroughbreds have won 25 percent of their Group One races for three-year-olds in the past couple of seasons - that's huge.
"In the past 15 years New Zealand-bred horses have won nearly 50 percent of Hong Kong derbies and 60 percent of Singapore derbies."
Bayleys Cambridge real estate agent Alistair Scown said New Zealand was typically the shop front for the Australia racing sector.
"Over the last five years New Zealand bred three-year olds have won 45 percent of derbies and 40 percent of Oaks races in Australia.
"Overall there are about 15,000 people directly employed in the thoroughbred industry within New Zealand, and $500 million is generated in wages and salaries by the sector."
Ms Sclater said Free Trade Agreements were important for the sector's growth and the industry wanted to see those stay firmly in place.
"The New Zealand Chinese Jockey Club, based here, are promoting the New Zealand thoroughbred industry to Chinese entrepreneurs with the FTA now in place between New Zealand and China."
She said one advantage New Zealand had over other countries was the cost of breeding and training.
"In a lot of countries the cost is so high, but because of our climate that means we can continually do this.
"It suits our horses to be raised outdoors. That also sees our horses reach their genetic potential as well... in a lot of countries the environment isn't as natural."
Ms Sclater said New Zealand was renowned for producing horses suited for long distance races, and being born and worked outdoors allowed them to grow, develop and strengthen better than if they were permanently stabled.