The 2008 Loxton Gift lived up to its promise of being one of the tightest major Gifts in recent years. Whilst we were confident at YGTS that we had a few runners who would do well, there was always the prospect of a few from left field ready to lift due to the high stakes involved.
Much anticipation in HEAT 1 whether the Gene Simmons of pro running - Chris Tuohy (pictured) could survive a heat that included the first four runners in the Marion Gift final.
In Heat 1, Lyall Weir started well and had the frontmarkers covered mid race, comfortably winning from Leon Burckhardt (10.75) who just shaded David Gross (9.0) with Tuohy a close up 4th and just missing a semi berth. Dual Loxton Gift winner, Brad Letton (8.0) was also a victim of the tough heat, finishing 5th.
Weir, Burckhardt, Gross. Time: 12.85s.
HEAT 2 went for the highest bid in the Calcutta with $700. The heat included last start winners - Russell Scott (8.0) who won the Camden 120m and Aaron Harrison (11.25) a winner over 70m at Tea Tree Gully. It turned out to be a good heat for YGTS with Keilor Gift finalist Dylan Hicks (9.75) starting well and setting up a good lead before edging out the fast finshing backmarker, Dale Woodhams (5.25) by about 1/2m with Scott securing 3rd in front of Harrison.
Hicks, Woodhams, Scott. Time: 12.96s.
Heat 3 saw a 120m return for the first time since he won the Burnie Gift from Duncan Tippins (4.0). Back 2.75m from his Bay Sheff mark, Tippins was ready for the challenge and certainly had the heat to test him. Another of the Vic runners, Peter Dudkiewicz found himself in a similar situation to his stablemate Tuohy, with 3 good runners to overcome to advance to a semi. Besides Tippins, recent Ararat Gift winner, Andrew Steele (6.50) and 2006 Camden Classic champ Ben Koschade (7.75) were widely tipped to do well after showing good signs in lead up races.
Steele appeared to get the best of the start and appear to range up to Koschade, while Tippins was quickly gathering them in. By the half way mark it was evident the Dude was destined to miss, as Koschade and Steele passed him while Tippins was storming up the inside lane. Koschade finished stronger than Steele who faded enough for Tippins to split the other two. The Dude ran 4th.
Koschade, Tippins, Steele. Time: 12.88s.
Heat 4 was down to 5 runners vying for the 3 semi final spots after the scratching of the 2 frontmarkers. It was probably the softest of the 4 heats and after starting solidly, Clay Watkins (3.25) proved far too good winning comfortably from Adam Burbridge (6.0) who was able to pass and hold out Ryan Hancock (10.0) with Glenelg Gift winner Wallace Long-Scafidi (8.0) a disappointing 4th.
Watkins, Burbridge, R Hancock. Time: 13.07s.
Both semis looked tough with the first semi featuring a rematch between Koschade and Tippins with perennial finalists Burckhardt, Gross and Scott and the sole Vic chance Burbridge all looking to finish top 3 and make the final.
As he did in the heat, Gross soon caught Burckhardt, whilst Koschade was quickly making up ground in the middle. Tippins looked strong and relishing the head breeze seemed to catch Burbridge quickly before passing Scott. Koschade stormed to the front with 20m to go and looked strong to the line despite a late charge from Tippins who was terrific in 2nd spot. Burckhardt finished over the top of Gross to grab the important 3rd spot.
The second semi looked a showdown between winter training partners Lyall Weir and Dylan Hicks. Weir had the fastest heat but Hicks looked more comfortable in winning the 2nd heat. However a break by Weir causing him to put his blocks back a metre, virtually ended his chances of winning the heat and jeopardized his chance of advancing altogether.
At the gun, Hicks got away well and was soon in front, well clear. Steele caught Hancock before chasing after Hicks. He looked a chance to catch him, before Hicks held him to the line to win by about 3/4m, with event backmarker, Watkins overcoming Woodhams for 3rd. Weir struggled off his reduced mark and was unable to make up the ground, finishing well back with Hancock. Hicks winning time of 12.82 was a lot slower than the first semi where Koschade ran 12.62.
On paper the 2nd semi looked slightly tougher, but as it turned out the heat and semi featuring Koschade and Tippins was the best guide to the final.
Four YGTS runners in the final - a first for a major Gift and probably the best chance ever for a Loxton Gift win. However the man with the fastest semi time - Ben Koschade was obviously the favourite going into the final. Regardless it was a cracker final field with plenty of big race experience. The athlete with the least major race experience was probably Dylan Hicks who had only just come off his first major Gift final when 4th at Keilor. Great to see the two quality backmarkers in Watkins and Tippins had not shown any effects from their season’s best 400m performances in the Melbourne Athletics Grand Prix on Thursday. A massive effort by Watkins who had suffered a hamstring mid season, to make the final, running off the tightest mark of any athlete currently running in the SAAL.
RED - Clay Watkins 3.25m
WHITE - Duncan Tippins 4.00m
BLUE - Andrew Steele 6.50m
YELLOW - Ben Koschade 7.75m
GREEN - Dylan Hicks 9.75m
BLACK - Leon Burckhardt 10.75m
A much anticipated final was ready to go and after Brian Hart had issued his instructions the athletes stood silently behind their blocks. Harty called them to their marks and in unison the six runners settled into their blocks. The gun fired and all left their blocks cleanly and began surging up the track. Steele looked the most impressive early as he peeled off the gap to the front markers and seemed to be close enough to the favourite Koschade to cause an upset. Meanwhile Hicks got his customary good start only to find Burckhardt didn’t come back to him as quickly as he should. Hicks hit the front after about 60m but only seemed to be holding them off as the four backmarkers came at him. Steele seemed to get to him with Koschade along side him. Tippins held his 3/4m advantage over Watkins all the way and flew over the concluding stages to catch Steele. However in the closing 10m, Koschade wasa able to regain the ascendancy and grab the lead and hit the line with Tippins only inches away. About 1m between first and last with Koschade getting the verdict over Tippins and Steele with Hicks, Burckhardt and Watkins all close behind.
Great final - very close and after a few injury riddled years, the state’s best junior sprinter from the the late 90’s was able to win his biggest ever first prize of $4000. Now that he seems to be over his injuries, and considering he was the best in the Ormrod/Sheehy era, it would be terrific for the likeable Ben K to go on from here and become one of the top backmarkers over the next few years.