HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE: KAREN LEEK
CATEGORY: BREEDER, REARER & TRAINER
By Gerard Guthrie
There is always enormous significance attached to any Greyhound Racing Victoria Hall of Fame induction; however it’s unlikely there’s been a more emotional or heartfelt – or for that matter deserving – elevation than that of the late Karen Leek.
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.
Karen’s loss left the many she touched both shocked and saddened and it’s fitting she will now be forever recognised for her many achievements, even though she was never one to seek the limelight.
“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.
“It’s devastating for our industry that this has happened to someone we all loved and respected.
“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.
“I hope her family and friends are really proud of this day and I think the whole industry will be proud as well that we’ve recognised Karen in the best way we could.”
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 told Molly Haines.
WATCH: The late Karen Leek was immortalised at the ‘virtual’ 2021 Victorian Greyhound Awards for her achievements as a breeder, rearer and trainer.
WATCH: The Karen Leek-trained Din’s Son (6) wins the 2010 Shepparton Cup.
LISTEN: Karen Leek caught up with SEN’s Jack Heverin in 2018.
“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.
“She was proud any time any of our dogs won a race, let alone break a track record or win a Group race, she’d be on the text or on the phone!
“She basically just opened up her home to myself and Serge and was just so friendly, so warm, so inviting. The first thing she offered was a cup of coffee before we started looking around the property and looking at the pups. You don’t forget that and you don’t forget the smile she always had.”
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.
“I just feel so honoured to have known her and looking back now I cherish all the moments I spent with her. All the times driving with her to trials and races and things like that when I didn’t have my license.
“Through my whole teenage years and early 20s she was like my second mum, even when we had our little disagreements. We just had a mutual love and respect for each other.
“I just wish she was still here now. She got to see me win my Group races, she got to see me get married, she was at our wedding, she got to see me have my two children. I just wish she was here to see us all grow older and be a part of each other’s lives for a lot longer.”
Karen’s passion for the well-being of all greyhounds and desire to see the sport thrive saw her devote her seemingly endless energies to administration as a member of the Greyhound Owners Trainers Breeders Association (GOTBA) and various industry groups and panels.
“Karen’s success was attributed to her passion for the greyhounds,” said long-time friend Sandra Reed, who encouraged Karen to join the GOTBA.
“She loved the dogs and not having a family of her own, her dogs became her family and she cared for them just as you would your own children. She treated them as her own children and she was a perfectionist in looking after the dogs in every way.
“She wanted everyone to look after dogs the way she did. She was always there to guide people to better look after their dogs and train them as well as they could.
“Karen was an amazing person who helped many people in the greyhound industry, not just in greyhound racing, she was great with her family. She was always such a giving, loving, caring person.”
Perhaps Peita Duncan best summed up the Victorian greyhound racing’s community’s universal love, respect and gratitude for Karen Leek, Hall of Fame inductee.
“God bless you Karen and we really miss you.”
GRV's Hall of Fame
About GRV’s Hall of Fame: The people and greyhounds inducted into the Victorian greyhound racing Hall of Fame have been recognised for their excellence, integrity, consistency, longevity and overall contribution to the industry. For more information, click here.