This is the 34th year in a row that Adam Crawford from Glenrothes has been in charge of the handicapping at the New Year Sprint and his enthusiasm shows no sign of waning. Yesterday he was at Musselburgh Racecourse to help put the finishing touches to the grass track where the 144th version of the former Powderhall Professional Handicap takes place today and tomorrow.
“The track looks the best it’s ever been,” declared Crawford. “They’ve been working on it with machine rollers and it’s looking great,” added the man responsible for allocating the starts for the 70 or so competitors. This year’s race again carries a top prize of £4,000, plus consolation prizes ranging from £900 for runner-up to £100 for eighth.
There are ten heats of seven competitors, beginning at 11.30am today, with the winners plus the ten fastest losers from all the heats progressing to the four cross-ties or semi-finals tomorrow morning, and the winners of these plus a further four fastest losers reaching the final tomorrow at around 3pm.
The races will be staged between the horse races at the New Year’s Day National Hunt meeting, which, unless there is a bad frost tonight, should go ahead. The sprint track is not the same as that for the horses but is flatter and nearer the rails alongside the finish.
The Borders, Edinburgh and Fife are still the main locations for training schools but there is one challenger from Dundee who may be in contention, 36-year-old Susan Young, coached by Dave Combe.
Drawn in heat two, Young has a start of 19.75 metres for the 110 metres race and should have the endurance to last the distance.
Gemma Nicol, runner-up at Musselburgh in 2006, is also in contention and in pursuit of her dream to become the first female winner. Off 16.5m, Nicol clashes in heat seven with Morro Bajo, the 16-year-old Drummond High, Edinburgh schoolboy who is off 3.5m.
The early favourite was Ben Robbins, another 16-year-old who goes in heat ten off 7.7m.
Crawford believes the winner may come from the Borders, with teenager Dylan Ali from the Tweed Leader Jed Track club the favourite.
Ali, off 9m in heat five, has two former winners to test him, Leigh Marshall (Hawick 5.75m) and Cumbie Bowers (Glenrothes 6.5m). Defending champion Graeme Lister (Kirkcaldy 5.75m) is also back in heat six, but with a mark reduced by 6.5m.