Drama and controversy at the 2007 Australia Post Stawell Gift

The 2007 Australia Post Stawell Gift is the most open in a decade, with less than two-tenths of a second separating the top 24 runners following the heats of the 126th running of the Easter classic.

The expected fast times did not unfold until late in the day, with self-coached Queenslander Gary Finegan (5.5m) producing the fastest time – in the second last heat.

Finegan, 21, a world junior championship representative in 2004, easily accounted for US indoor finalist John Woods to record 12.28 seconds, but was the subject of an immediate enquiry by Victorian Athletic League stewards who questioned the Queenslander on his rapid improvement since his last start at the Keilor Gift in February.

Finegan was dismissive of the style of his heat win.

“I’ve put down the time, but it doesn’t matter what happened today it’s all about Monday now – two more races to run,” he said after the heat.

The stewards were as busy as the bookmakers with Queensland’s Nathan Allen (5.25m) and Ballarat veteran Evan King (10m) also questioned after the heats.

Allen, 29, was sensationally backed into a $3 favourite for the final before the heats but despite easily winning his heat in 12.45 did little to impress his strong army of supporters.

“The first half was excellent but I struggled a bit in the second half of the race. I know a lot of people have been talking about me and I’m confident in what we have done. I can understand why some people don’t rate me and I’m happy to prove them wrong,” a confident Allen said.

King, 36, a three-time finalist at Stawell, easily accounted for defending champion Adrian Mott in the final heat with 12.30, the second fastest time of the day.

Sydney event manager Iain MacFarlane (6.75m) - pictured - also impressed, clocking 12.30 to win heat 21.

For the first time since 1995, betting was suspended and after the hour-long stewards investigation Finegan was fined $100 and Allen handed a severe reprimand whilst King is set to meet with Stewards in the morning. To add to the drama, early gift favourite and 2005 Gift finalist Luke Versace, who failed to scratch from his heat, was suspended for 12 months and fined $500. Cameroon’s Sani Biao was been fined $250 for his late scratching.

The heats having failed to reveal a clear-cut favourite, Finegan, MacFarlane and Albury’s Daniel Steinhauser (7m), who clocked a comfortable 12.38 to win his heat, were installed as joint favourites at $3 after betting resumed.

Even though he finished fourth in his heat, American sprinter John Woods managed to scrape through to the semi-finals off his mark of one metre. Olympian Adam Miller (1.75m) won his heat in a time of 12.52 whilst 2006 Australia Post Stawell Gift winner Adrian Mott (3.25m) is an outside chance to make history after progressing through to the next round in a time of 12.54s.

1988 Seoul Olympian and former Stawell finalist Robert Ballard recorded the fifth fastest time to win his heat in 12.41 and was immediately backed in from $51 to $8. The 41-year-old, who will take up a posting as the strength and conditioning coach with the Indonesian National Olympic Committee later this month will line up in his 16th Stawell Gift semi final on Monday.

In the Provincial Victoria 120m Women’s Gift, Bronwyn Anderson was the fastest qualifier through to the semi-finals with a time of 13.90 off a mark of 10.5m.

Three-time Australian sprint champion Sally McLellan looked strong in her heat off scratch with the backmarker producing a time of 14.21s. Eleven-time Australian champion Tamsyn Lewis was the fourth fastest qualifier, crossing the line in 13.99s off 4.75m.

Two 1600m finals featured on day one with former AFL grand final boundary umpire Allan Cook from Hoppers Crossing taking out the Official Supporter’s Club Frontmarkers Mile. Ballarat’s Nathan Hartigan collected his second Gift Hotel Backmarkers Mile after winning the event in 2005.

2007 Australia Post Stawell Gift Market after the Saturday Heats

$3 Gary Finegan, Iain MacFarlane, Daniel Steinhauser

$5 Doug Greenough

$6 Nathan Allen

$8 Robert Ballard

$9 Evan King

$13 Luke Whitney

$15 Nick Sampieri

sorry kk we must have been posting this at the same time how do you delete this thread?

no need, few folk read every thread and it is often debatable whether to run a race story under “News” or “Race results”. Both seems to be fine.

Bad luck to Gary “FIGJAM” Finegan who missed out on the final by a bee’s dick. Better luck next time mate.