Jordan Charters, the powerful 21-year-old Lasswade AC long jumper, is the 5/4 favourite for the £4000 first prize in the 148th New Year Sprint, the final of which will be held tomorrow during the National Hunt Meeting at Musselburgh Racecourse.
Emily Dagg (Jedburgh), who was fastest in the heats at Meadowmill Sports Arena, East Lothian, yesterday, and is bidding to become only the second-ever female winner, is next at 2/1, and Greg Kelly (East Kilbride), who was second at both Peebles and CERF last summer, is at 5-2 despite having a walkover in the very first heat.
Dagg is looking to follow clubmate Jaz Tomlinson who made history last year by becoming the first female winner in the 147 years of the 110m professional handicap.
From her start of 20.5 metres Dagg won heat four in the day’s fastest time of 11.50 seconds, despite a swirling crosswind which hindered more than helped the runners. She beat Edinburgh AC team-mate Sarah Malone, with Kieran Kivlin (Edinburgh) third.
Charters attracted significant support after winning heat three impressively in 11.66 secs, appearing to take his foot off the gas before the line.
Kelly missed out on a seeded place in the cross-overs (semi-finals) tomorrow as these are decided on times and he cruised through on his own in approximately 11.9 secs, much slower than the others. But the teenager, who was second fastest junior over 200m in Scotland last season with a time of 21.89 secs, must have done enough to convince his backers at least.
Kelly will clash with Charters in the fourth of the four cross-ties but, with fastest losers also qualifying, both could still go through to the final which will be run two hours later.
Dagg will be favourite to win the first cross-tie in which Calum McWilliam, a clubmate of Kelly and a fastest loser from heat 11, might be the dark horse.
Heat two winner Stacey Downie (EAC) goes in the second cross-tie with clubmate Ellie McGinty also there, while Craig Knowles (Corstorphine AC), who took the fifth heat impressively, goes in the third cross-tie.
There was disappointment at the start of the 148th New Year Sprint meeting when Kelly, one of the early favourites, was given a walkover in the first of the 12 heats at Meadowmill.
All four of his rivals for one reason or another opted out of running, leaving the tall teenager, who has a start of 8.25m for the 110m handicap, to stride down the track in majestic style with only a blustery westerly wind for opposition.
“It was a pity we didn’t see how Kelly, one of the favourites, was actually running,” said John Scott, coach to Charters, who finished fourth last year and whi won heat three, easing up in 11.66 secs from a start of 10.25m.
“That was a nice relaxed run and he had the race won with a bit in hand,” added Scott, whose assessment is that today being a rest day could play a significant part in who ultimately wins. “The race will be won or lost tomorrow [today],” he asserted, alluding to the role played by mental preparation in such events.
But also to be considered will be the switch from the all-weather synthetic surface at Meadowmill to the much less predictable grass on the strip next to the jumps.
That too will be a factor in assessing the chances of the fastest heat winner, Dagg. Her coach Bruce Scott was quietly satisfied with her run: “She ran well and I still think she’s got a wee chance.”
Tomlinson ran bravely in heat 12, which was won in 11.85 secs by Charlie Carstairs (Lasswade AC), despite a ruthless three metres slash of her handicap from 20.5m to 17m, and she at least secured a fastest loser’s spot in tomorrow’s semi-finals.
Francis Smith (Rosyth), though disappointed with his own virus-affected sprint form – he went out in heat seven as did a former favourite Morro Bajo (EAC) – believes Tomlinson should have been treated more sympathetically by the handicapper Adam Crawford.
Not to be discounted is Knowles, who, from 7.5m, won heat five easing up 11.61 secs while Glen Desport (Hawick), 9.5m, was also impressive in taking heat eight in 11.66 secs.
McWilliam (East Kilbride) 9m, must have speed in hand after qualifying as a fastest loser from heat 11 which was won by Cameron Caldwell (TJLT) in 11.57 secs. McWilliam had been penalised a metre after false starting.
Ewan Dyer (Pitreavie AC) was a convincing winner of the 800m open handicap, clocking 1:51.45 from a start of 40 metres, while Matt Dougall (Galashiels) staged the best finish of the day in snatching the 1600m handicap by inches from Owen Miller (Fife AC).