Sweltering temperatures made for trying conditions at the 2016 Euroa Gift. The extreme heat triggered a large number of scratchings, and as a result the fields were much smaller than usual, with heats of only four or five in events such as the 300 commonplace.
Thankfully for the athletes in the 70m Open, they wouldn’t need to be sweating out in the sun for long. Jason Bailey impressed early as he cruised to the line, as did Leigh Phelan, Tim Rosen and Jason’s brother, Blake. There was only a short turn around until the semis, in which time recovery played an important part in who would be able to back up their runs from the heats. Both semis were very close, with only 0.2s separating first from seventh in each. Liam Shepherd and Daniel Richardson were the first across the line in their respective semis, and other qualifiers for the final included Jason Bailey, Rosen, Ryan McNamara, Jonathon Rogers, Phelan and Samuel Grouious. Again, recovery and keeping cool was important before the final as the athletes had only a ten minute gap after their semi before they were required to run again. It was McNamara who coped with this best, as he blitzed home in the red to win from Bailey and Rosen. This season has proved a prolific one for McNamara, as the sash he collected was his fourth for the year, and his second in the 70m Open event.
The 550m Open saw at least half the field scratch from almost every heat, opening the competition wide up. Stonnington mile winner Cameron Clayton threw down the challenge early as he won clearly in heat 2, but the other heat winners also recorded quick times, most notably, James Deane, Meg Deane and Justin Cohen. In the final Meg Deane led out strongly, but several of the backmarkers were making ground quickly. When they hit the final straight, it was Meg Deane still in the lead, with James Deane and Clayton looming. James Deane managed to pass his daughter with around 30m to run, and held off his stable-mate Clayton to win his first sash in over two years.
Around two hours later, he won another one, when his huge second effort down the front straight saw him take out the open mile. Mid-race, Jacob Nolan was running strongly as he led the pack hunting down the front-markers. At the bell it was the blue of Michael Preece and the yellow of Justin Murphy who were well placed, only meters off the chasing pack and closing rapidly. Preece burst from the pack with 200m to run, and took the lead from Stefan Catalano, but Deane had made the break with him, and was right on his heels. With Preece tiring from his kick for home, Deane took the opportunity to surge past and hit the tape first, capping off an excellent day for him.
The significant difference in prize money on offer between the Women’s and Open 120m Gift resulted in a notably smaller field for the women. Four heats sorted the athletes into a straight final, in which some of the usual suspects featured, including Mandy Emmett, Kirsty Stevens and Loryn Savoia. However it was the New South Wales runner in Melissa McQuade who ran the quickest heat, off 20.5m in the pink. Some technical issues kept the runners waiting on the starting line of the final while commentator Terry McGarity called for a new microphone. Eventually, the signal was given for the race to go ahead anyway, with Terry calling the race from the fence, sans microphone. The two front markers ran away from the rest of the field and competed fiercely, but it was McQuade who inched ahead of Emmett to claim the sash.
There were no such problems in the open Gift. Tim Rosen showed promise early in his heat, as did McNamara as he cruised through to auto-qualify, and Jonathon Rogers in heat 6. However it was Paul Hughes who announced himself as the clear favourite, after running a blistering 12.55s from 14.75m. Rogers was edged out by McNamara in semi 1, who still didn’t look flat to the boards, and Hughes won strongly from Brittain in the second semi. In the final it was simply a question of whether Hughes would be able to repeat his efforts from earlier in the day, and it was a question he answered in the affirmative when he dipped under 12.6s for the third time, to win from McNamara and Brittain in what was a very tight race.
In the open 300m it was backmarker Paul Tancredi who won comfortably from Dale Lyons in blue, while Shane Ezard got up for third in the white.
Other winners on the day included Mitchell White, in the U20 120m, who won, in Terry’s words, “with a leg in the air”, and Tim Halpin in the women’s and veterans 300m, in what was his first VAL win.