Matthew Wiltshire (Alfredton) 8.00 T: Peter O’Dwyer
Very impressive athlete who last season won the Bill Howard 100m Novice and the 120m Restricted at Ballarat. (12.43s off 7.75m). Made his first Gift final when 2nd at Warragul (12.69s off 6.50m) before failing to make a semi at Rye & St Bernards. Caught the eye with a terrific win over 70m at Ballarat (7.66s off 5.00m). Also ran well in the Ballarat Gift where he was a metre out of the final, running 12.51s in his semi off 6.75m. Came to the attention of the purists with some inconsistency between his heat and semi at Keilor where he ran 12.84s and 12.96s off 7.00m; and again at Burramine where he was 4th in the final (12.58s off 7.00m) after running 12.48s in the semi. Has a very astute mentor and looks to be one of the few to have been specifically set for the race. Massive chance.
Doug Greenough (East Bentleigh) 9.50 T: Todd Ireland
Was running in the VAL for many years before he had a superb 2009/2010 season, winning 5 races – the Daylesford 70m, 120m Rye Gift (12.35s off 9.50m), Sandringham 400m, Noble Park 300m and the Ararat Gift (12.51s off 9.25m). Ran 3rd in the 2010 Stawell Gift final (12.24s off 9.75m) after running 2nd in the Burramine Gift (12.43s off 9.75m). Had a relatively quiet season in 2010/2011, before coming back into some form this season winning the Northcote 70m. He made the 120m Gift semis at Wangaratta, Ballarat and Keilor before running 3rd at Bendigo (12.48s off 8.50m). Seems to be back in 2010 shape albeit 0.25m back from the mark he ran 3rd from. He hasn’t run since Bendigo which suggests he’s having a serious crack at the Gift once again. Genuine final contender.
Adam Coote (Elwood) 11.00 T: Mark Hipworth
He has won several races over the last few years including three high quality VAL wins in the 2010 Bendigo Black Opal 400m, the 2010 Stawell 800m and the 550m at Stonnington, as well as the Bay Sheffield 550m in 2009. Was set for the 2011 Stawell Gift and ran a close 3rd in his heat (12.39s off 10.25m). Opened the season with a 5th place in the Terang Gift then ran 2nd in his Bay Sheffield semi final before running 5th in the Burnie Gift final. Since running 6th at Rye and Equal 3rd at Loxton (off 9.00m), he hasn’t made it past the semis at Bendigo, Burramine or Euroa (13.00s off 9.75m). AFL boundary umpiring duties make it difficult to do the quality sprint work he needs to prepare adequately for a Stawell Gift. Expect a similar run to last year – around the 12.3 mark.
Shaun Hargreaves (Werribee) 8.25 T: John HenryHas a very impressive pro-running CV that includes seven sashes over distances from 70m to 550m. He opened his account with the 2009 Ballarat 120m Novice (12.67s off 7.25m) and has won a 120m Mt Gambier Gift (off 7.50m), 100m Daylesford Gift, 550m Movember Open and a Maryborough 200m. In terms of major Gifts he was also 2nd in the 2010 Burnie Gift (off 6.75m). Suffered a few injuries along the way but showed he was back in town with an eye-catching 2nd in the Ballarat Gift (12.36s off 7.00m). He then ran 4th at Noble Park (12.51s off 7.00m) and 3rd at Bendigo (12.44s off 7.25m) before putting the cue in the rack for a proper Stawell prep. Has a massive chance and will just about start favourite.
Paul Cracroft-Wilson (QLD) 8.50 T: Ryan Hoffman
New Zealand born beach sprinter who moved to Australia in 2004 to pursue his career with the Kurrawa surf club. He reached the pinnacle of his chosen sport when he won the 2008 world beach sprint and the 2010 world beach flags titles. Follows a long line of beach sprinters such as Paul Singleton & Kip McFarlane who have successfully transferred to the pro-running circuit, when he made the 2011 Stawell Gift final, finishing 5th. (12.33s off 9.50m). Stawell was his first ever Gift final in Victoria although he now has three wins on the VAL circuit. The first was the 70m at Maryborough in 2007. This season he has won the Warragul Gift (12.58s off 7.75m) and the Avondale Heights Gift (12.74s off 7.00m). Last start in Victoria he was 6th in the Noble Park Gift (12.55s off 7.00m). Gets a hefty lift of 1.50m that gives him some chance in the semis on the Monday, but hard to see him making a second consecutive final.
John Steffensen (NSW) 6.00 T: Darrell Smith
Commonwealth Gold medalist over 400m where he ran 44.73 on the MCG in March 2006. Has a 200m PB of 20.79s from 2007. Has been the best performed 400m athlete in the country this season, having won the Olympic Games Trials 400m on March 3rd. Still to run an Olympic Games qualifying time he will use this weekend as a warm up for the national titles. Steffensen ran 12.60 and 12.62 in his heat and semi of the 2011 Stawell Gift, but appears to be in much better shape this year. Generously marked and if he brings his 20.7 shape to the table he has a massive chance of being in the final.
The Protrack Form Guide pretty much got it right except perhaps for Paul Cracroft-Wilson who ran better than we thought he would; AND Adam Coote ran about a metre faster than we anticipated with his sub 12.3 heat & semi. (Yet to see his final time but I suspect it was about the predicted 12.3 time).
Of the top 20 picks - which effectively eliminated 126 athletes, we got 5 of the 6 finalists, with Paul Cracroft-Wilson the only 'outsider' unexpectedly making the final.
Bear in mind of our top 20 - two of those who were serious chances in Liam Dooley and Khan Marr were scratchings, leaving us with 18 contenders.
AND other comments about athletes made which were close to the mark:
Kevin Brittain (Grovedale) 6.75 T: Peter Walsh
The task here is a lot tougher than the last two seasons with most of the field forward a metre while he has gone back 0.50m. Can’t see him making it this year but is a terrific competitor and could surprise.
Kim Collins (St Kitts & Nevis) 1.00 T: Self Trained
Probably in similar shape to last year which is remarkable given he turns 36 on the 5th April. Problem for him is he will probably have to run sub 12.20s to be a genuine chance and based on last year that will be a tough ask.
Michael Frater (JAMAICA) 0.00 T: Steve Francis
Massive job ahead of him and given the record of international scratchmen since Ravelo in 1975, the odds are against Frater making the final. Will be worth the ticket to Stawell to see how he goes.
Ian Hinton (NSW) 8.00 T: Dan Sammut
At 23, he has a bright future in the sport, especially if he can improve on that 10.92 PB, but prefer his chances in the Bill Howard 100m Novice.
Sam Jamieson (VIC) 4.75 T: Nick Fiedler
...doesn’t appear to be quite as quick as he was in 2008. With stablemates the calibre of Khan Marr (4.50) and Adrian Mott (5.00) around him, he is probably third pick of the Fiedler backmarkers.
Aaron Stubbs (QLD) 4.75 T: Brett Robinson
Should make another semi but unlikely to make the final this year.
Paul Tancredi (Oak Park) 9.25 T: Robert Furness
He is a big occasion athlete who will find a bit for this, but not sure if he is quite in the same shape he was in 2009.
Shane Woodrow (Lake Gardens) 10.75 T: Len Templar
Is with a very astute stable and appears to be on an old fashioned Stawell prep. Therefore certainly cannot be under-estimated.
Overall I reckon it's an 8/10!