Stonnington Gift 2016
By AJ Macdonald
It was a night for the younger athletes of the VAL in the Stonnington Gift, held at Toorak Park. Despite its short program, with only eight events on the agenda, Stonnington remains one of the most prestigious carnivals on the VAL calendar, offering $40,000 in total prize money.
Sprinting was the at the forefront on the night, and the program opened with the Cool Ridge Under 20 100m girls’ gift heats, followed by the Gatorade Under 20 100m boys’ heats. In the girls`, Sarah Huntington won her heat in pink from 15.5m, and went on to win the final from the out marker’s position in grey. Daniel Richardson was victorious in the boys, running in the green after winning his heat from the mark of 3.5m.
All attention then moved to The City of Stonnington Women’s Gift, where nine heats were whittled down to three semi-finals, then further to a six woman final. Jessica Payne continued her impressive form of late and posted a quick time to win her heat, but a clear favourite emerged in heat 4, when Keely Henderson won comfortably in the green from 8.5m. The competition tightened when backmarker Sarah Blizzard blitzed the field to comfortably win the last heat from 5m.
Payne took out Semi 2 to advance to the final, and all eyes turned to Semi 3, where the well-placed Blizzard and Henderson faced off. Blizzard saluted, but Henderson’s time was good enough to give her a spot in the final. 18 year old Henderson has been around the mark recently, qualifying for last year’s Stawell and Stonnington Gift finals, but this year she went one better, starting from the front in the pink and holding that position though the line.. The win was Henderson’s first in the Victorian Athletic League, and came with a $10,000 cheque. Other favourites, Blizzard and Payne, finished second and third respectively.
The open Gift was a closer affair. Last year’s winner Isaac Dunmall from Queensland, came close in heat 8, but his second place wasn’t enough to progress to the Semis. Nicholas Repalust won semi 1 to earn a start in the final, as did Ryan McNamara, David Gross and Cam Dunbar from semi 2. In semi-final 3, both Nathan Riali and Brett Richards overtook the field, running in the red and the white respectively. Repalust, starting from 6.25m, passed both Dunbar (6.75m) and Gross (8m) early in the final, but was swamped just before the line by the flying backmarkers. It was McNamara who edged slightly ahead, saluting with Riali second and Richards .012sec behind for third.
One of the only events of the night to use the entirety of the circle track, the Lend Lease 1600m Open Final is one of the most anticipated races of the season for the distance runners of the league. Worth $3,000, the Stonnington mile always attracts a large field, and this year was no different, with 49 entries before scratching’s. The uniquely shaped track adds another degree of difficulty to the race, with the first bend much shorter and tighter than regulation, and a back straight that runs diagonally away from the front straight, rather than parallel. Fresh from his win in the Trinity 1600m, Jack Davies ran again in white from 50m and threw down a challenge to the rest of the field, running hard early and taking the lead by part-way through the last lap. However he wasn’t in the clear, as a few runners had managed to latch onto the back of him, and it was Cameron Clayton, in the pink, who rounded Davies with 200m to go and bolted for home. By the time Clayton hit the final straight he was the clear winner. James Deane, in the pink and white, managed to get up for second, with Davies just holding on for third.
Other winners on the night were Jody Richards in the women’s 400m, and David Page in the 300m Masters.
All in all, it was another spectacular night under the lights of Toorak Park.