Keilor Gift Report (2008)

The Keilor Gift dates back to the 1920’s and has been held off & on ever since. It resumed in 1991 after a 12 year absence from the Vic Athletic League circuit. This year was the 60th running of the race. It is arguably the 2nd most prestigious race on the VAL calendar, behind the Stawell Gift. It attracts a terrific crowd of about three thousand and with the final at 9.05pm, it is followed by a fantastic fire works display.

Here’s my report on this year’s race.

Well, what a great Keilor Gift. Just a great event and as much as it’s a long day, the build up to the final event made it all the more worthwhile.

Just love the major Gift tradition with 6 semis and semi winners only into the final. Don’t see it often due to the smaller number of entries compared to the halcyon days of pro-running, but it does add to the intrigue, the anticipation and the drama.

For those who were not there here’s a biased view of what transpired.

No question going to Keilor, I thought Iain MacFarlane was the man to beat. Clearly he was in super shape going on his recent amateur performances including the 21.29 in beating Keith Sheehy last week. Keith Sheehy would be a moral off 4.75m so it made MacFarlane the man to beat. Must give the handicapper credit for not smashing him for the amateur performances. The 4.75m was fair and reasonable. He had 6.25m at the Bay Sheffield and couldn’t make the final so he needed to run his absolute best to win off 4& 3.

Much anticipated MacFarlane heat came and went. The boy from Homebush Bay looked superb. Class Sheffield run in the fastest time. JH installed him 4’s on favourite.

Some other impressive heat wins came from Burnie Gift runner-up Liam Shepherd (8.0m), SA’s Plympton 70m winner Dylan Hicks (9.0m), Ballarat runner-up Peter Walsh (9.0m), past Burnie winner Luke Whitney from Tassie (6.25m), Latrobe Gift winners John Adams (3.75m) and Matt Hargreaves (6.0m) and last week’s Ballarat Gift victor and Nigerian speedster, Bolal Lawal.

Semis were well drawn with all the major contenders missing each other.

Liam Shepherd scorched away early and set up an unassailable lead to win well from the very fast Nigerian Lawal. The backmarker certainly caught the rest quickly enough but the 12.57 from Shepherd just put it beyond him. Great run all the same, a pleasure to watch and fantastic to see Lawal pick up the skins later on.

Hicksy had time up on the others in the 2nd semi and split open the field with a scintillating start to go to the line clear from David Tinney in 12.58.

Whitaker had the fastest heat time going into the 3rd semi and at one stage it looked like he had them covered, however a great contest came from Adams and Tancredi and as they hit the line, Adams finished strongest to score in 12.66. Quality performance from the backmarker.

Continuing on from his great from at Ballarat, Walsh had 1.5m up on his nearest rival in this one and looked the part winning easily by nearly 2m in 12.59. Nathan Dixon ran a credible 2nd.

The 5th semi was all Iain MacFarlane. Just looked genuine class off the back mark, quickly gathered them in and went to the line strong & powerful like a true 120m runner. Interestingly Clint Youlden beat MacFarlane in the semi at the Bay Sheffield and met him better off, which just goes to show how much MacFarlane has improved, because Youlden certainly looked to run as well as he did at the Bay. Good to see the return to form for Luke Whitney who struggled at Burnie.

The last semi was the one with probably the most intrigue. On times there was very little between Mace and Hargreaves. Only 0.01 separated them from the heats. And it showed in the semi with both hitting the line locked together. Took a while for the verdict and from those on the hill – it seemed a just decision, a dead heat. I certainly could not split them. The 12.76 was the slowest of the semis, but given the competitiveness of it, both lads were still well in the hunt.

The dead heat in the 6th semi made it a 7 man final.

Plenty of time to the final and it was interesting that despite the impressive fastest up runs of MacFarlane there were still some who thought others had a genuine chance of taking home the trophy. Walsh seemed to be a popular selection – I guess because of Ballarat form, his hard to the line semi win and its comfortable margin.

Good mix in the final with the backmarker from the border in Albury, a well performed dual registered athlete from NSW, 4 Vics ranging in age from 17 to 31 all with some big race experience and a South Aussie in his first major final.

A hush went around the Keilor Sports Ground as the starter called the 7 runners to their marks. From the gun, Hicks, (off the front with Walsh), once again scorched away and clearly led mid race, however the white and red were running stride for stride picking them off along the way. With about 30m to go Hicks was quickly coming back to the field and for a moment it looked to be a 4 way photo, however MacFarlane emerged strongest from the pack to win by a metre from the ultra impressive 17 year old Scott Mace. Liam Shepherd just shaded Hicks for the all important 3rd place.

The presentation of the race makes it a much sought after event and is why it is so highly regarded of by interstate runners. Well deserved win and its performances like MacFarlane’s that adds to the glamour and prestige of the Keilor Gift.

Look forward to the Keilor Gift – 2009.

After reading that, sign me up. Great report.

Do you know anything about MacFarlane’s training? He has improved tremendously this season and I’m wondering where this is coming from.


Iain MacFarlane is coached by Brian Wright - a bloke who has been around the pro-running game for around 20 years. Wrighty is better than most and his results in recent years suggest he knows his stuff. He was a winner of the Australian Athletic Confederation’s (professional running body) coach of the year in 2006/07.

He’s getting better results than a lot of amateur based trainers…

He has a squad of dual registered athletes in Sydney, I think they are mainly based at E S Marks oval.

One of his other success stories is Matt Pilkington who has won several races on the pro circuit and continues to run well into his early 30’s. Pilkington made the Keilor Gift final last year off a back mark.

I don’t know what they do, nor whether he follows any particular methodology but if I resided in Sydney and was looking for an astute sprint coach, I would certainly consider knocking on Brian’s door.

Very good report, very exciting to read!