By Mick Jensen
Horses and harness racing were a big part of Jack Ranton’s early life in Australia and those years included driving to cup victory in Victoria and also stepping into the boxing ring with a Melbourne Cup winning jockey.
The 85-year-old has lived the quiet life with his wife Marion (nee Maw) in Methven for more than 50 years, but growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, he was racing mad.
Jack was born in Victoria and watched the gallops over his back fence in Stawell.
He later headed west to live near Gloucester Park, the home of West Australian harness racing.
Jack was a stable hand for Hall of Induction horse Beau Don, which went on to break the Western Australia Cup record and recorded 35 wins at Perth.
After a few years driving in Perth, he moved back to Victoria armed with his trainer’s/driver’s licence.
His biggest race victory in his home state came in 1958 when he drove Mighty Wyn to victory at the prestigious Hamilton Cup.
A light weight driver, Jack used to bolster his 51kg natural weight with lead sheets, which took him up to 63kg.
Harness racing had been a big part of his early life and he looked back at those years fondly, Jack said.
A road trip four years ago to his old stomping ground of Stawell and Hamilton had brought back many good memories.
Another fond memory from his younger years occurred when Jack was 18 years old and part of the local boxing club.
“We had an inter-club fight night and I stepped into the ring against a lad my age called Ray Neville, who a couple of years earlier had won the Melbourne Cup.”
15 when he won the cup as a nine race novice, proved too strong in the ring and he was given a bit of a mauling.
Jack Ranton left harness racing behind when he moved to New Zealand in the early 1960s to work in the woollen mills of Petone.
He met his future wife in Petone, later trained as a welder and worked at General Motors.
Jack and Marion later moved back to Mid Canterbury, where he worked on Maw family farms around the Methven area until retirement.
Farming kept him pretty fit and he enjoyed golf until his hip started playing up, he said.
“I’m more of a Kiwi than Australian these days, but I’ll never forget those happy harness years training and racing in Australia.”