Serious questions are being asked about the future of the famous New Year Sprint, the final of which will take place during the National Hunt Meeting at Musselburgh Racecourse today.
Though old friends rallied round to ensure the event is safe this year, following the unfortunate fall suffered by the promoter Frank Hanlon, several were openly questioning how long the race can survive.
Among the fears being expressed was the fact that some key officials are nearer 80 than 70 (and replacements are not coming forward) and that entries this year have been well down.
There were 18 “no-shows” for the 12 first-day heats of the 148th Sprint and with entries already down from 88 last year to 60, that meant only 42 actually racing on a far-from-pleasant windswept day at the exposed Meadowmill track in East Lothian, after which Lasswade AC’s Jordan Charters, pictured, emerged as the 5/4 favourite, with Emily Dagg (Jedburgh) second at 2-1.
Two of the most vocal competitors are Francis Smith (Rosyth) and Graeme Armstrong (Edinburgh), the latter in the supporting 90 metres handicap.
Armstrong, the former Meadowbank Thistle and Stenhousemuir fullback, is chairman of the City of Edinburgh Running Festival (CERF) which takes place on grass at Meggetland every July and in 2016 bucked the trend of dropping entries by attracting 12 heats of seven.
“We could incorporate the race in our meeting and even bring back the old name of ‘Powderhall Sprint’,” says Armstrong.
Smith believes that young athletes are being deterred from entering the big sprint because of the cost, with the rest day between heats and final an extra factor for those coming any distance, and the severity of the handicaps.
The former Scottish 200 metres and hurdles champion cites the example of last year’s winner Jazmine Tomlinson, whose handicap was cut by 3.5 metres from the 20.5m mark with which she won.