I know that the lure of the Stawell backmarkers is large, however I would always look at Bendigo as one to grab. Let's face it, if you are a chance at Bendigo you could win Ringwood or Stawell as well. The quality 400m races show us who has played the game the best.
Nick Cross 32 / Callum James 32 11% - Nick Cross is not ready yet. James, why he will win - He has the mark, the coach and the ability to win here. I am not sure what his target is this year but he is right in everything and I feel that he will have a red hot go this week. Strong looking runner with a similar arm action to that of another good JH athlete Callard. He will need to go hard early but should be there towards the end. Why he will not win - Other athletes will put too much pace on for him to go with early and he may struggle to get back on at the end. Verdict - final
Harrison Kerr 32 / Nick Magree 32 20% - Kerr, why he will win - Kerr has shown his quality with a couple of good performances this year. His improvement under Fiedler is noticeable. Why he will not win - The votes are not for him, he does not have form over the 400m. Magree, why he will win - He is a quality 400m runner. He is strong at the back end of his race and will be able to go hard enough to blow up the likes of James early. Block starting does not seem his strong point yet he has won a gift this year as well. If you see Monty in the bookie ring he is on. Why he will not win - He may have paid the price for picking off an early win. A more fancied athlete for me is starting in front of him. Can he get there quick enough. Verdict - Final
Matt Burleigh 35m / Michael Voumard 37m 14% - Burleigh 'Heads', why he will win - He has form showing that a longer race does not concern him with a good win at Yarra Ranges. He has previously been a competitive back marker in the sportz biz races. 'Heads' may be able to go hard enough early to stay in front of the Magree's and James' and this is why he is a chance. Good looking runner. Why he will not win - Big race pressure. The opal is not the 300m Yarra Ranges Gift. This race has been around for a long time and has had more quality athletes setting themselves for this big win. Is he as good as those who have been there before? Voumard, why he will win - big mark. Why he will not win - no form over this distance. Setting himself for something else a little shorter. Verdict - Heads - final. Voumard - heat.
Rod Matthews 40m / Brett Maurer 40m 10% - Matthews, why he will win - Quality never gets old, the speed may. Matthews is a quality athlete and a true icon of the sport. He won the Stawell gift and continues to compete easily giving back to the sport that provided him with the opportunity. He has a nice long stride and that will be aided by a firm track. Having him in front of anyone will give them a slight worry as to how they can catch him. Why he will not win - while his quality will never age there are younger athletes who will run past him. Shame as this would be a story, in the mix for performance of the year and a feel good story all in one. Maurer, why he will win - As many have done I have been watching him for a long time. He runs the 400m well and has shown that he will win when he wants to. I would go this week. The mark will not get any better for him as even if the field is adjusted to scratch next year he will only get 40m anyway. Why he will not win - He cannot judge his race off anyone. He has that ability most weeks and in the Masters races. If someone catches him early the damage may be done. Verdict - Matthews - final at best I hope. Maurer - final and likely top four.
Come on up for this one as it will be one of the highlights of the year!