TASMANIA lost one of its most talented and dedicated harness racing participants last week when Don Peck died aged 72.
Peck was the youngest of the 11 children of Rupe and Eileen Peck and it was odds on that harness racing would play a role in his life.
That eventuated to the extent that training and driving harness horses became his career choice and remained a passion throughout his life.
Peck started working for his father Rupe as soon as he left school on the family property at Bridgenorth where he remained until last year when the property was sold.
It was the ideal environment with his father the state’s leading trainer with a stable full of talented horses.
Peck recognised the role his family played in his development as he often stated in stories produced by many of the state’s leading scribes.
In the early years, Don assisted father and brother Graeme with classy performers such as Sparkling Con (12 successive wins and two seconds in the Tasmanian Pacing Championship), Sparkling Raid, Premier Dillon, Glendawood, Poatina (two Danbury Park Cups and one Metropolitan Cup) and a host of other ‘bread and butter’ pacers.
Legendary reinsman Jack Stamford was Rupe Peck’s number one stable driver but when he retired from the sulky Graeme took on the role and then shared it (role) with Don.
Don had his first drive at Devonport in 1959 behind Premier Dillon and finished fourth.
But he didn’t have to wait long to experience the sweet taste of his first winner when Dillons Flash won at Burnie in early 1960 – the first of approximately 640 winners Don Peck accrued over his 45 years in the sulky.
Over the years Don established a great record with fillies and mares and he nominated the Classic Garry mare Lovely Lena as the best horse he trained.
Don and his assistant Sharon Slater treated the mare with kid gloves and achieved outstanding results.
Lovely Lena, who was diagnosed with heart strain prior to being trained by Don, won 10 races in Tasmania and two more at Moonee Valley after she left the Peck stable.
Don also had a soft spot for former topliner Hal Butler.
Trained at Ridgley by the astute Jack ‘Stiffy’ Rosier, Hal Butler, at one stage won ten races in one season and Don rated him the best horse he had driven.
Hal Butler ran many seconds to the mighty Halwes, who Don rated the best pacer he had seen in action.
He also rated Dromicia amongst the best horses he sat behind.
Don stated in an article written by this writer that Dromicia was a sensational horse that had terrific high speed and, while I only drove him a few times, he was an exciting horse that went on to win over $200,000 in prizemoney.
The 1998/99 season was a standout for the Don Peck stable when he won the Launceston Pacing Club trainers award mainly due to the performances of Maldon Blaze and Cranleigh.
Maldon Blaze won 11 races for Don and another eight in NSW with the majority of those eight wins being at Harold Park while Cranleigh won 10 for Don.
In 2009 Peck and Barry Freeman purchased the unraced Jay Bardon. Trained by Barry, Jay Bardon won 11 of 23 starts before injury during his four year old season ended his racing career.
Jay Bardon and Maldon Blaze were special horses to Don Peck being out of Shansue Mod, an unraced daughter of the top class mare Mod Humor who Don trained after his father Rupe retired.
Don ended his driving career in a manner befitting the classy reinsman that he was – his last two drives in August 2004 were both wins behind the Barry Freeman trained Arras.
When he retired, Don said (in an article by this writer)
“It isn’t the risk of getting injured that has influenced my decision to retire from driving, although it is a fact that injuries like I copped in that fall at Mowbray take so much longer to heal when you get to my age.”
”I have always believed that many footballers play one season too long and are labeled has-beens when they play on so I didn’t want anyone thinking that of me so I am retiring before my use-by date.”
The last winner Don trained was Top Premier at Burnie in March 2011.
Dons many feature race wins included:
1968 Easter Plate – By By Dixie
1969 St Marys Cup – Comenchero
1974 Sires Produce Stakes – Green Lea
1976 Easter Plate – Green Lea
1979 Easter Plate – Dromicia
1981 Show Cup – Mod Humor
1983 Ulverstone Cup – Mod Humor
1987 North Eastern Cup – Ermis
1994 Raider Stakes – Mandasha
1995 Diamond Stakes – Hillcot Jay
1996 Tasmanian Premiers Classic and Youthful Stakes – Our Rocky Knight
1997 Danbury Park Cup – Newry Flash
1998 Danbury Park Cup – Quite Paleface
1998 Diamond Stakes and Princess Of Pace – Lindys Ticket
1999 3YO Fillies Championship – Lindys Ticket
1999 Globe Derby – Maldon Blaze
2000 St Marys Cup – Cranleigh
2000 Governors Cup and Granny Smith – Lindys Ticket
2003 Evicus and Blue Bonnet – Cher Mon Amour