By Gerard Guthrie
The late Karen Leek was inducted into Greyhound Racing Victoria’s Hall of Fame at Sunday night’s ‘virtual’ Victorian Greyhound Awards.
There is always enormous significance attached to any GRV Hall of Fame induction; however it’s unlikely there’s been a more emotional or heartfelt – or for that matter deserving – elevation than Karen, who hailed from Devon Meadows.
Karen, who passed away in tragic circumstances in May, 2020, aged 69, was an industry icon, making an indelible mark and gaining widespread respect and admiration for her contribution to all aspects of the industry, from rearing, training, breeding, mentoring young participants and administration.
“I think she was an absolute superstar,” said GRV Chair Peita Duncan, who enjoyed a close friendship with Karen, forged through Karen rearing Ms Duncan and her mother’s greyhounds.
“It’s just heart-breaking that she’s not here anymore and I think this is the least we can do, to put her in our Hall of Fame. Part of me thinks damn it, we should have done it before, but you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
“I’m thinking part of her would be like, what’s all the fuss about. Get over it, I’ve got dogs to feed up and let out!
“But I think that seriously, deep down, she would be quite proud. She was a very humble person but I think she would be chuffed she’s been inducted.”
Karen enjoyed great success as a breeder and trainer in her own right, with her standout performers including dual Melbourne Cup finalists Relle Louise (1979-80), Proud Paul (1983-84), 1984 Melbourne Cup finalist Copper Lady and Din’s Son, 2010 Shepparton Cup winner.
However, it was in rearing and nurturing the stars of tomorrow that Karen achieved widespread renown.
Among those to benefit from Karen’s expert touch with pups was successful owner/breeder and GRV Board member Bill Buccilli and his cousin Serge, with the likes of star performers Godsend, Phenomenal, Extreme Magic, Bewildering, Captivating and most recently Equalizer, among a host of others.
“Karen reared pretty much all our pups until the last couple of years when she started to wind down a little bit,” Buccilli said.
“After you met Karen and walked around the property, you could just see the passion she had.
“The way the dogs were kept and the way the dogs were groomed, just the way she looked after her own property and the pups and the way she handled them was for me second to none.”
In addition to developing young canine talent, Karen was just as respected for her role as a mentor to young people making their way in the industry.
Among her protégées was prominent stud master Paul Westerveld, who made the life-changing decision to undertake work experience with Karen during his high school years.
“I chose to go there knowing Karen was passionate about greyhounds, as obviously I was, but I’d never met her before and what an experience it was and we made a lifelong friendship through it,” said Westerveld.
“It’s everything (having a good mentor). I was so fortunate that I had Karen, and I had other mentors too. I think as a young person getting involved in this sport you just need to surround yourself with people like Karen who will set you on the right path.
“Overall for me, Karen was the biggest influence on my career.”
Pearcedale trainer Kelvyn Greenough was also recognised on the night with the inaugural Metropolitan Trainer Strike Rate Award, with 25 winners from 94 starters at 26.60 percent, edging out neighbour Jason Thompson who had 53 winners from 220 starters at 24.09 percent.
Greenough’s Houdini boy was crowned the Victorian Stayer of the Year, while 19-year-old Pearcedale trainer Kayla Cottrell received the Ned Bryant Award in recognition of outstanding achievement.