As has been expected for nearly 100 years the Wangaratta gift carnival commenced with an afternoon of very hot weather and finished with a warm pleasant evening under lights. The track which suffered a heavy downpour the day before was still in first class condition. The club as always provided ample time keepers, judges and other officials. The Wangaratta gift, first run in 1919, gradually works towards its centenary in a few years time.
Laura Jane Hilditch (12.5m) opened her winning account for her new training stable, the MattyB department, with a clear win in the 70 metres final on Saturday afternoon. The heats were fairly even except for a 7.63 produced by Cam Dunbar (4.75m), although this run did have a severe wind adjustment. The first semi final was won by Laura Jane, narrowly from Simon Carey (9.5m) in 7.78, whilst the second semi went to John Adams (4.5m) in 7.79. In the final Hilditch was never in danger and raced away to record a good win in 7.66, defeating Adams, Carey and Dunbar. Luke Stevens, off his two metre handicap, ran an excellent race to finish fifth in 7.81. Laura Jane has recently moved to Canberra with work and is now training with Matt Beckenham’s team.
800 metres Open
David Spence (62m) made short work of the 800 metres final at Wangaratta by recording an easy win in 1.56.59 from Justin Rinaldi (38m) and Charlie Brooks (62m). Lonain Burnett (50m) clocked the fastest heat with a run of 1.56.8 with Spence winning his heat in 1.57.95. Thomas Hobson (40m), new to the VAL, produced a nice heat win in the time of 1.58.4. In the final Spence took the lead comfortably as he entered the back straight and wasn’t pushed to win by five metres from Rinaldi who chased home hard down the outside to grab the consistent Charlie Brooks on the line for second. David attributed his win to his new found diet of date cake and rum balls provided by his lovely partner Steph Mollica, who also made the 800 metres final on the same diet.
George Underwood 400 metres Open
The rising star of the VAL coaching ranks continued to shine at Wangaratta when Brad Armstrong’s stable star Luke Versace (24m) made it consecutive wins in 400 metres events. Luke scored his first win of the season in the recent Rye 400 metres. The six heats were very even and competitive with all heat winners given a chance in the final. In the final Versace moved his way through the field early to be in a striking position at the half way point. Luke hit the lead on the home turn but had trouble fighting off renewed challengers from Jarrat Wood (36m) and Mitchell Palmer (28m). Eventually Versace won by two metres from Wood and Palmer. The winning time was 47.78. The race is named in honour of George Underwood a long time supporter and commentator of the VAL.
Women’s and Veterans’ 120m
Angela Wilson (35.5m) not to be undone by her husband David “The Riddler” Haigh, turned an easy heat win into a victory parade in the final of the women’s and veterans’ at Wangaratta. David, in a rich vein of winning form this season, played a support role for the team on Saturday. Angela coasted through the heat, denying Greg O’Keefe (12m) a home town final and then proceeded to wreck Craig Lancaster’s (23.75m) opportunity for a January treble. Leigh Phelan (4.25m) ran the fastest heat time and being only in his second season with the VAL wasn’t aware of the Haigh/Wilson “stooging plan”. This scheme devised over many seasons where Dave mesmerises the opposition with discussions on kilometre rates, wind resistance, the Dewy Decimal System and life on Mars, whilst Ange delivers the knockout on the track. After gathering their faculties Lancaster was second with Leigh Phelan finishing third. The winning time was 13.42 or as Dave would tell you sixteen Orkan seconds.
Novice 120 metre
Aaron Pengelly (14m) improved on his heat time to run away with the final of the novice at Wangaratta on Saturday evening. Going into the final there didn’t appear to be much between Pengelly, Jason Bailey (7.25m) and Leigh Miller (14.5m) all qualifying with runs in the range of 12.9. However in the final Pengelly quickly raced past Miller with Ryan Clohessy (11m) finishing in third place. The winning time was a quicker 12.74.
Optus Wangaratta Gift 120 metres
Matthew Hargreaves (6.25m) overcame a “drought” by his standards to put his name back in lights with a solid win in the Gift final. Matthew recorded a heat time of 12.92, which appeared to place him on the “outer” with the fastest heat going to Cam Dunbar (7.5m). The second fastest in the preliminary round went to Nick MacGibbon (6.5m), who was co-incidentally in the Dunbar heat. The first semi final went to Matthew Hargreaves who improved his time to 12.81, the second semi to Brendan Matthews (6m) with a run of 12.77. Cam Dunbar was still a chance with his semi final placing in 12.80 as also was Sam Jamieson (4.5m) with a run of 12.84 to finish second to Hargreaves. In final Matthew Hargreaves finished too strongly from his back mark to defeat Dunbar by a metre with Brendan Matthews in third place. The winning time was 12.69 and was the start of a big weekend for Matthew’s coach John Henry.
Broo 400 metres Women’s
The Broo series for the women’s 400 metres athletes continued at Wangaratta with two heats conducted and the faster of these heat going to Susan Sinclair (38m) in the time of 55.75. The second heat was won by Emma Zalcman (20m) who defeated Celia Cosgriff (36m) by a small margin in 56.29.In the final Celia and Susan cleared out from the rest, with Cosgriff proving the better over the last few strides. Katrina Buckingham was in third place. The winner clocked 55.23 to win and is coached by Nick Feidler
Victorian Athletic League under 20s 400mts
Those Victorian Athletic League followers with a good memory or vivid imagination may remember many times over the last ten years where a group of three, four or five kids would run themselves “silly” up and down the finishing straights of many of our gift tracks. On Saturday evening one of those kids did the same run for “the real deal” and with a handy $120 prize at the end. Jake Ireland, so long an enthusiastic viewer of the VAL led all the way to space his rivals for his first win, the under 20s 400 metres final. Sam Grouios was second with Ashley Cowen running on strongly for third. Jake was lost for words on the presentation dais, possibly a sign that the win was unexpected. Jake goes to Yarra Valley Grammar and was inches away from capturing a Stawell sash in 2011 when he finished second in the Little Athletics 400 metres final. Jake is the grandson of VAL life member Graeme and son of VAL stalwart Todd Ireland, a Wangaratta gift finalist on eight occasions winning in 2011.
Phil Noden 3200 metres Open
VAL athlete Phil Noden once again provided the excellent prize money of $1500 for an event often over looked by sponsors on the Victorian Athletic League circuit. The 3200 metres produced an exciting finish with Charlie Brooks (310m) and Arron Downes (350m) duelling over the last three laps before Brooks finally nailed the prize with a spirited burst in the home straight. Downes battled on strongly leaving third placed Matthew McDonough (100m) fifty metres away as he crossed the line. Brooks has made some profitable trips to Victoria this year with a double at Cricket Willow over 800m and 1600m before Saturday nights win. Mark Hipworth battled on for fourth with Shane Thiele in fifth place.
300 metre Veterans’
Anna Pasquali (41m) turned the tables on Tom Hecimovic (32m) from their heat to win the final of the veterans 300 metres. In the heat Hecimovic over powered Pasquali in the last few metres but Pasquali was able to hold him at bay in the final. Sonya Pollard (61m) held on for third. The winning time was 37.06. Whilst Anna was leading the charge for the Pasquali family husband Wally, also in the final, finished at the rear.
The GilletteDash4Cash 300mt final
The final of the $5000 Gillette sponsored 300 metres event took place on Monday afternoon with the winner being Steve Fabris (9m) from Simon Fitzpatrick (scr) and Jacob Reed (16m). Steve won the first round of the series and tuned up for the big event with a solid fourth in the $4000, 400 metres event at Albury the day before. At the MCG Fabris surged to the lead with eighty metres to travel and held off a fast finishing Fitzpatrick. Simon’s run from the back mark was excellent, having to come wide over the concluding stages on the turning track. Jacob Reed, back a metre for his win in the Albury event, ran a great race for third. The series was a great success, although the racing was a little tight, giving our athletes the opportunity to race on the MCG before big crowds.