Veteran Borders coach Charlie Russell has twice prepared the winner of the New Year Sprint.
His first success came with Dave Barbour of Walkerburn 22 years ago and then, eight year ago, Gala’s Chris Robertson took the coveted title.
Russell, from Innerleithen, believes that, today, Ryan Houten of Cardrona can complete a treble for him and add to the growing list of successful athletes produced by Peebles High School – including Jordan Charters (Lasswade AC), the man most likely to challenge him for the £4,000 first prize at Musselburgh Racecourse.
Houten so nearly did it last year, failing by just .03 sec to catch Cameron Tindle (Edinburgh AC) on the line and, had he done so, aged just over 16, he would have succeeded Chris Robertson as the youngest winner of the 147-year-old 110 metres professional handicap.
“We’ll just need to go one better,” says Russell, who has retired from coaching more than once but clearly loves the sport and his involvement in it.
A former athlete of his, Stacey Downie (EAC), who now teaches at Peebles High, has also qualified for today’s cross-ties or semi-finals and will clash with Charters in the fourth and final one.
Houten, only just 17 and with a start of nine metres, two fewer than last year, goes in the third cross-tie where his main threat would appear to be Dylon Ali (Hawick 11.25m), who won heat seven in a useful 11.85 secs last Wednesday.
But the heat times are likely to be largely irrelevant today when, instead of the so-called “tartan” of the track at the Meadowmill Sports Centre in East Lothian, where the first-day preliminaries were held, the competitors face the prospect of a soft, sometimes bumpy and often inconsistent grass surface alongside the horseracing track.
The athletes will doubtless debate as to which spikes they should use but it certainly won’t be the usual “needles” and they might be as long as 15mm or even 20mm.
“Our athletes normally carry both in their bags,” saidEarlston coach Bruce Scott, who has backmarker Tindle (EAC, 2m), Jasmine Tomlinson (Jedburgh, 20.5m) and Emily Dagg (EAC, 21.5m) all through to the cross-ties.
Not to be written off, especially with no headwind to worry about, will be last year’s winner Tindle, who was disappointed to finish only third in his heat, well down on the flying Houten with whom he was drawn and who scorched to 11.46 secs g from his start of nine metres. That was easily the fastest of the windswept day and made him a 4-6 favourite with what bookies could be found.
Next was Lasswade AC long jumper Charters, an apprentice painter and decorator, who powered to 11.58 secs from an 11m start to be quoted at 5-4.
Tindle, now an outside bet, though, should have been boosted by his win in Wednesday’s Invitation backmarkers 110 metres. But, whatever happens today, he will continue with his speed training for another two weeks as he prepares for a tilt at the British senior indoor 60 metres in Sheffield next month in a bid to make the British team.
Tomlinson, third last year and still only 18, should make the final but Scott believes Ancrum’s Emily Dagg, a pupil at Earlston High, will run her close. “To get a run in the final would be a great experience for her,” he said.