Scott Peck’s fascination with horses began at a very early age.
“I saw a horse drawn wagon,” Peck said. “I would run down the hill and wait for the next one to come by.”
That was eight decades ago. Peck will turn 90 later this year.
Since that time, Peck has held a variety of professions and jobs. For 42 years, Peck was a river pilot, monitoring tanker and passenger ships that traveled up and down the Delaware River. He also owned a popular restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
But in 1980, Peck said that he was “going through” some sort of a mid-life crisis.
“I was going through middle age and I felt like I had to prove something,” Peck said.
So Peck remembered his fascination with horses – with the help of his then-10-year-old daughter Mary Beth.
“She won first place in a horse show,” Peck said. “It was wonderful. I sold the restaurant and bought a pony.”
Peck has been in the “horse business,” as he calls it, ever since.
Soon after purchasing his first race horse, he became partners with Sonny Conner and owned a handful of horses. Conner’s son Tyler is still one of the top jockeys at Penn National.
After five years, Peck went out on his own, buying horses and training them.
“A friend of mine helped me get my trainer’s license,” Peck said. “I’ve been training ever since.”
So sure enough, Peck heads to the barn at Delaware Park every day to check on the welfare of his horses.
“If I can’t get up and go to the barn, I’d go crazy,” Peck said. “There are only so many books that I can read or watch TV. That’s just boring.”
Peck has a method behind his willingness to buy young horses.
“I like purchasing inexpensive horses and training them,” Peck said. “If I had to do this for a living, I’d say, ‘No way.’ I just take personal satisfaction in training a young horse into a winner.”
One of Peck’s top earners was Smokie, a gelding who raced for an incredible 10 years (2000 through 2009), went to the post 95 times, came in the money 38 times and won 12 races. Smokie earned $276, 904 in his storied career, with the majority of that under Peck’s tutelage.
“I bought him for $12,000 and he earned more than $250,000,” Peck said. “He was claimed like 13 times in a row.”
Peck thought he had a handle on horse training.
“I thought the game was easy,” Peck said. “I met a lot of nice people in the horse business.”
So much so that Peck has held the position of president of the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association for two terms. He first served as a member of the DTHA Board of Directors, then was elected as the President in 2005 through 2010. Peck was re-elected to another term as President in Sept. of 2016.
Some of the things that were instituted during Peck’s term include a workman’s compensation plan for jockeys, trainers and other horsemen and a retirement program.
“We accomplished a lot while I was president,” Peck said. “But a lot of people felt I was too old to be the president. They then asked me to come back and I did it again.”
Peck currently has four horses in his barn, the best being Hickory Dickorydoc, the 3-year-old filly who raced only twice last year, winning her debut at Delaware Park almost a year ago to the date. Hickory Dickorydoc finished third in her next outing, the Small Wonder Stakes in September, but Peck was concerned about her.
As it turned out, Peck’s worries became a reality.
“She had a stress fracture in her knee,” Peck said. “We have to take it slow with her. We’re training her for a comeback.”
Peck’s 3-year-old gelding Shoulda Had It has won two of three this year, and Peck hopes to race Shoulda Had It a few more times this year.
“He really couldn’t be any better than he’s been,” Peck said of Shoulda Had It. “But that’s the fun of it. When you train a horse and he wins a $5,000 race, it’s just like winning a stakes race. It gives you a feeling of satisfaction.”
Peck won twice at Delaware Park this year with Shoulda Had It, a maiden claiming race July 8 with a purse of $10,000 and a claiming race July 28. Nothing seems to slow Peck down.
“I have to have something to do to keep me going,” Peck said. “The question is, do I retire or does it just come to an end? I keep saying that this will be my last year, but then another young horse comes up and I’m interested.”
Peck has an interesting approach when it comes to training horses.
“I’ve never really been on a race horse,” Peck said. “I can only take so many jobs, so I can’t take anyone else’s job. I’m really not too bad of shape for someone who’s 89.”
Over his career, Peck has won 76 races and his horses have won $1.7 million in purses.
And Peck loves being the grandfather of Delaware Park.
“I just love the people, the owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms,” Peck said. “There’s a lot of different people at the track. It’s our own little community. We’re like one big family and we take care of others. You just want to help the guy next to you.”
Peck has been happily married for 64 years to his wife Betty. The Pecks have five children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. But incredibly, Peck is the only member of his family to enter the horse racing industry.
“It’s just me,” Peck said. “My kids grew up around the game and realized it was just something I do.”
Peck is not giving up anytime soon.
“I’m still looking for my first fortune,” Peck said.