Mark Chitty credits his parents and his biggest veterinarian mentor as key figures in his efforts to improve the lot of New Zealand racing through voluntary work.
The head of Haunui Farm was recognised at the weekend for his years of work in the thoroughbred industry by being bestowed the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association’s Personality of the Year Award to recognise his outstanding contribution to the industry.
The list of organisations that Chitty has been part of is a long one. As well as being the Auckland branch president and national vice president of the NZTBA, he’s been a board member of New Zealand Thoroughbred Marketing, a Racing Hall of Fame board member, Equine Health Trust board member, and chairman of the Counties Racing Club committee.
In more recent times, he’s been a key player in the merger of the Auckland Racing Club and Counties Racing Club into Auckland Thoroughbred Racing, and is now vice chairman of that key group.
Speaking as he was heading to an update on the construction of the new Strathayr track at Ellerslie, Chitty said the importance of making a contribution had been drummed into him from a young age by his parents, Ron and Carolyn Chitty.
“Both my parents gave of their time, in lots of different fields, be it schooling or community. You’ve got to give a bit back, and if you want things to progress, that’s what you need to do,” he said.
“It’s also good for the soul.”
Chitty grew up as his parents were running Haunui Farm, which they took on following the death of his grandfather Geoff Chitty in 1975. His first area of expertise in the industry was as a veterinarian, where he learned a great deal from his mentor Charlie Roberts.
“He was a great veterinarian who challenged the system. He was one of the men that was really for moving the sales from Trentham to Karaka, and he challenged veterinary science, and I was obviously brought up with that,” he said.
Both Roberts and his parents promoted the value of not only working with industry groups, but ensuring his voice was heard when he did so.
“I never like the thought of being asked to be in a meeting and you never express what you truly think. That’s one thing I can always say, I’ve always been one to express my opinion, be it the right decision or the wrong decision,” he said.
“Challenging thinking is really important, because sometimes, somebody brings something to the table that you haven’t thought about that can sway your own thinking. At least people know where you stand, and that’s important.”
Chitty said he felt important changes had been made with New Zealand racing, and that it all came down to better returns, which would promote further investment.
“We’ve been lucky to have great people investing, but a lot of that new investment will hopefully come with the improvement in racing in New Zealand, and fundamentally that’s got to come through stake money. The risk and return, and the rewards are not currently what they should be,” he said.
“We don’t have to equal Australia, we want to try and keep our costs under control, but we certainly need a better return to promote further investment.
“New Zealand by weight of numbers is a wonderful place to rear horses and we’ve got lots of great people, and what was encouraging was the young people that are in the industry that are at management level and in the training sector, that’s exciting, but we’ve got to guarantee their future.”
The Auckland Thoroughbred Racing merger was something Chitty had been proud to be part of, and though much of the focus has been on the Strathayr track and the greater prizemoney to race for, he felt it was just as important to ensure Pukekohe’s future as a training centre.
“I think it’s really important that we have a pool of horses that are based locally to support what we’re trying to achieve primarily at Ellerslie for raceday,” he said.
“For the generations to come, you can’t imagine, if it’s going to be Pukekohe, Waiuku, Bombay, Patumahoe area, people being able to afford tracts of land to train horses on, so we’ve got to be able to provide that facility and we see that as being at Pukekohe Park.
“Matamata and Cambridge have done that very, very well, and ATR can’t be reliant from a whole lot of horses coming from the different areas for all its racing.”
Despite his work in the industry, and with his own business at Haunui, Chitty said there wasn’t one particular achievement that stood out.
“It’s always involved a lot of other people, and I’m just pleased to have been part of leaving some things not quite as they were,” he said.
“To be recognised for it has been an honour, but all of them have had their moments of satisfaction. I’m going to keep on working with it, and hopefully we’ll have an industry that’s better for everyone, and that we leave it in a better place than when I started.”