Fri, Apr 14, 10:29am by Senior Writer
The Stawell Gift is Australia richest and most famous professional footrace, and has been run in the western Victorian town at Easter for nearly 140 years.
It was once one of the great betting events in Australian sport, with the nature of the event seeing sprinters handicapped over the 120m distance and providing ample opportunity for betting plunges.
The stories of betting stings on unknowns to win the event are legendary, while some great athletes have won the race, while some even better ones have failed.
These days, it’s harder for runners to get in under the handicapper’s guards. Every performance in professional Gifts around Australia is scrutinised closely, meaning the chances of someone ‘running dead’ in order to get a generous mark are now significantly reduced.
However, there was considerable controversy in the women’s Gift race last year when Talia Martin improved her performances by 7 metres in the space of two weeks to win that race. Officials vowed to tighten the rules and the 15-year-old was fined $2000.
The format sees athletes run the heats of the Gift on Saturday, and the semi-finals and finals to be run on Easter Monday.
There is of course a full array of track events on display. One of the most memorable of those was Cathy Freeman’s win in the 400m handicap in 1996. The You tube link is below, but she puts Chautauqua to shame with the finish.
WATCH: Cathy Freeman mow them down in the 400m at Stawell in 1996
2016 Ararat Gift winner Matthew Rizzo, a finalist at just 17 here last year, is the $3.25 favourite to win the event off the 7.5m mark.
He has not been seen on the track since January, but is expected to improve off his fifth place performance in the final last year, despite coming back 0.5m on his 2016 mark.
2016 Bay Gift winner Will Roberts is also expected to contend and is currently the $4.50 second favourite having pulled out of the heats last year. He is off the 4.5m mark.
Daniel Sonsini was run out in the semi-finals of last year’s gift, but is third favourite at $6.50 off 7.75m. He fought out the Jim Spain Memorial Gift at Northcote with Rizzo and Nick MacGibbon, who is $31 here, last December. He was then third in the Daylesford Gift in January.
At $7 and off 8.5m, Jayden Gilfillan could be the one at value. He was also beaten in the semis last year, but is 0.5m better off and the Queenslander could surprise. The past two Gift winners have come from the Sunshine State.
2011 winner Mitch Williams is the lone scratch runner in the field. Famous for pinging a hamstring 5m before the line in his Gift win as a 19-year-old, he is $51 to become the first man since Josh Ross in 2005 to win off the back mark.
Joel Bee, who had a stellar summer before tearing his hamstring when competing in late January, is off 1.5m. He is at $31 along with last year’s champion Isaac Dunmell, who is pulled back 2.75 metres for his success in 2016. Bill Howard is the only back-to-back winner in the history of the race, completing the double. exactly 50 years ago this weekend.
Matthew Rizzo (7.5) $3.25
Will Roberts (4.5) $4.50
Daniel Sonsini (7.75) $6.50
Jayden Gilfillan (8.5) $7
Nathan Riali (4.75) $10
Conor Lughnan (7.25) $10
Liam Procaccino (7.25) $16
Tjimarri Sanderson-Milera (3.75) $21
Thomas Moloney (7) $23
Jack Newman (7) $26
Nick MacGibbon (7.25) $31
Ryan Camille (9.75) $31
Leigh Phelan (10) $31
Luke Eckford (7) $31
Michael Voumard (10) $31
Ryan McNamara (5.75) $31
Bryce Teo (6.5) $31
Isaac Dunmall (4) $31
Andre Imlah (5.5) $31
Ryan Ilett (6.5) $31
Joel Bee (1.5) $31
Aaron Leferink (6.5) $31
Jason Polglase (6.5) $31
Others: $34 or Longer
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