In a year marked by a significant drop in entries, the 148th New Year Sprint got off to a decidely low-key start when one of the early favourites Greg Kelly (East Kilbride) was given a walk-over in the first of the 12 heats at Meadowmill Sports Arena, East Lothian, yesterday.
All four of his rivals for one reason or another opted out of running, leaving the tall teenager, who has a start of 8.25 metres for the 110 metres handicap, to stride down the track in majestic style with only a blustery westerly wind for opposition.
“It was a pity we didn’t see how Kelly, apparently one of the favourites, was actually running,” said John Scott, coach to another young challenger Jordan Charters (Lasswade AC), who finished fourth last year and won heat three yesterday, easing up in 11.66 secs from a start of 10.25 metres.
“That was a nice relaxed run and he had the race won with a bit in hand,” added Scott, whose assessment is that today being a rest day could play a significant part in who wins the £4,000 first prize after the final at Musselburgh Racecourse tomorrow.
“The race will be won or lost tomorrow,” he asserted, alluding to the importance of mental preparation in such events.
But also to be considered will be the switch from the all-weather synthetic surface of the East Lothian track to the much less predictable grass on the strip next to the jumps. That too will be a factor in assessing the chances of the fastest heat winner, Emily Dagg (TLJT) who, from 20.5m, took heat four in 11.50 secs in a strong finish from sometime Edinburgh AC teammate Sarah Malone, with Kieran Kivlin (Edinburgh) placed third.
Her coach Bruce Scott was quietly satisfied with her run: “She ran well and she’ll do no training tomorrow. I still think she’s got a wee chance.”
Last year’s 8-1 winner Jazmine Tomlinson (TJLT) ran bravely in heat 12, won in 11.85 secs by Charlie Carstairs (Lasswade AC), despite a ruthless three metres slash of her handicap from 20.5m to 17m, and she at least secured a fastest loser’s spot in tomorrow’s semi-finals.
Francis Smith (Rosyth), though disappointed with his own virus-affected sprint form – he went out in heat seven, as did a former favourite Morro Bajo (EAC) – believes Tomlinson should have been treated more sympathetically by the handicapper Adam Crawford.
Not to be discounted is Craig Knowles (Corstorphine AC), who, from 7.5m, won heat five, easing up 11.61 secs while Glen Desport (Hawick), 9.5m, also impressed in taking heat eight in 11.66 secs. Calum McWilliam (East Kilbride) at 9m must have revs in hand after qualifying as a fastest loser from heat 11 (won by Cameron Caldwell (TJLT) in 11.57 secs. McWilliam had been penalised a metre after false-starting.
Ewan Dyer (Pitreavie AC) was a convincing winner of the 800 metres open handicap, clocking 1:51.45 from a start of 40 metres, while Matt Dougall (Galashiels) staged the best finish of the day in snatching the 1,600 metres handicap by inches from Owen Miller (Fife AC).