Weekend Herald

Chitty in heat of merger battle at home and Brisbane Cup

- Michael Guerin

Mark Chitty will take time away from one of the biggest battles in New Zealand racing history today to try to win a contest of a different type.

And while the A$400,000 Brisbane Cup at Eagle Farm has more immediate benefits for Chitty and his family, the bigger battle looming could define the northern racing industry for decades to come.

Chitty owns and runs the family business Haunui Farm, one of New Zealand’s more successful thoroughbr­ed breeding operations and the family also own Rondinella, favourite for the Group 2 stayers’ feature on Eagle Farm’s biggest day of the year.

The other battle is one Chitty never thought he would find himself in as the chairman of the Counties Racing Club, which is on the verge of a merger with the Auckland Racing Club which, along with co-operation from the Avondale Jockey Club, would form an Auckland super club.

The three clubs working together would have significan­t assets to realise and the opportunit­y to make immediate changes to facilities as well as long-term investment­s to provide sustainabl­e stakes increases.

That could see racing at Ellerslie close the gap on the huge stakes available in Australia and help retain human and equine talent in New Zealand while making racing more attractive financiall­y.

The Counties Racing Club members are set to vote on the proposed merger on July 6, with Ellerslie members to do so a few days later, and Chitty knows this could change the path of the industry.

“We believe it has to happen and I am confident our members will support it,” says Chitty. “The people in the industry realise this change is crucial and I think our members truly want what is best for racing, so I think they will support the changes.”

The Counties vote needs to be more than 60 per cent yes for the merger to get the tick from them before more than 66.6 per cent of Ellerslie members need to also approve it.

“I never saw myself being involved in racing administra­tion and especially not at such an important moment in the industry’s history but I am happy to be doing my bit. Our family has been in the game for 60 years and we, like so many other people, want to see it flourish.”

Chitty could get his first big win of the winter today, though, with Rondinella, who remarkably meets only six rivals in the Brisbane Cup.

Second in the Sydney Cup two starts ago, she has always been a highclass mare but has yet to win a group race and today will be her last chance.

“She heads to stud after this and has a date with Snitzel,” confirms Chitty. “John [O’Shea, trainer] says she is really well and the small field helps, so she can sit back and power home, so we’d love to see her win it.”

Today’s meeting is massive, with the Group 1 Stradbroke for the sprinters, the JJ Atkins for the juveniles and the weight-for-age stars set to chase Zaaki home in the new Queensland feature, the A$1.2 million The Q22.

Closer to home, there is thoroughbr­ed racing today at Te Rapa and

Trentham. Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh concedes his season target of 100 winners is probably beyond reach but he’s keen to keep progressin­g towards that goal with a big team at Te Rapa.

Marsh reached 97 wins in the 2018-19 season and was keen to better that this term, but with 82 wins with less than two months remaining, he doubts whether this is the season he can get to the century.

“It’s probably a little out of reach now,” Marsh says.

He has several good prospects today, selecting the quartet of Fighting Fire, Lock Up, Chakana and He’s The Man as his strongest chances.

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