New Year Sprint is festive highlight for experts

Dylan Ali celebrates after winning the 145th New Year Sprint at Musselburgh last January. Picture: Jane Barlow
Dylan Ali celebrates after winning the 145th New Year Sprint at Musselburgh last January. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Little loyal bands of hopefuls from the Borders, Lothians and Fife have once again been shunning the Christmas pudding to prepare for one of Scottish sport’s truly unique occasions, the 146th annual New Year Sprint, the final of which takes place at Musselburgh Race Course during the National Hunt meeting on Thursday.

Though the first prize of £4,000 is still a decent lure for the “school” who manage to outwit the handicapper and prepare a candidate capable of covering the 110 metres from his or her allocated mark faster than any of the other 80 or so aspirants, gone are the days of the betting coups which could earn a six-figure bonanza for runner, trainer and backers.

If you do spot a “turf accountant” on the first day of the event when the heats and semi-finals take place on Hogmanay, he is as likely to be holding the tracksuits – for this is the day for the aficianados, the real reason why this meeting, which has survived two world wars, remains in the calendar. It can be summed up by one word “tradition”.

Among the six heats on Wednesday in one of several supporting events, the youths’ sprint, will surely be a future senior favourite. This is a trend epitomised by the 16-year-old Cameron Tindle from Berwick, who with a tight mark of five metres, compared to back-markers Morro Bajo (Edinburgh AC) and Greg Louden (Lasswade), both off 4.25m, will have a lot to do for another rookie victory.

But having been on a “prep” with Bruce Scott’s oft successful Hawick school, Tindle, whose coach, Henry Gray, also guides Glasgow 2014 800m finalist Guy Learmonth, will go close.

Louden, a member of the record-breaking Scottish Commonwealth Games 4 x 400m relay team, may make a late decision on competing, depending on the condition of the grass track.

But there among the faithful will be Glenrothes bookmaker Cumbie Bowers, whose son of the same name won eight years ago and is back for another bid, and promoter Frank Hanlon, whose family connections go back into the mists of time and maybe explain why he has shrugged off innumerable financial setbacks to take the former Powderhall Sprint via the costly Meadowbank Stadium into the relative security of being sponsored by both Musselburgh Racecourse and East Lothian Council.