STAWELL Gift champion Matt Wiltshire says he is not yet at peak fitness.
But neither that, nor a handicap mark of just 3.25 metres, should rule him out of a Maryborough Gift 120m final on New Year’s Day.
The 21-year-old joined fellow Ballarat runners Holly Dobbyn and Andrew Drummond, and several others in the Peter O’Dwyer stable, for a run near Lake Wendouree yesterday as part of their “gift season” preparation. Wiltshire says the heaviest part of that preparation is still ahead.
“At this stage of the season I’m not as fit as I can be,” he explains.
“I’m trying to peak for Stawell. Right now I’m reasonably strong, but not fit. I hope to make the final (at Maryborough) and go from there. If I’m fit enough, the 3.25metre mark is okay.
Wiltshire has already completed a beach “boot camp” he describes as the toughest he has done, ahead of the Maryborough Gift, which is a feature of the Maryborough Highland Gathering at Princes Park.
He will contest the 70m open handicap in addition to the Bendigo Bank Maryborough Gift.
As for going into the race as the reigning Stawell Gift champion, he says he is unaware of any extra pressure to perform.
“I haven’t run a major gift since Stawell so I don’t know about pressure.
“I suppose there may be more eyes on me but, at the Terang Gift, the announcer didn’t even know me.”
Dobbyn, 16, is also hopeful of a finals appearance, in the women’s feature race at Maryborough, the Women’s Necklace Handicap 120m.
“I made the final in Ryde and Stawell, and my mark has improved at Maryborough from last year, from six metres to eight,” she says.
Dobbyn will also contest the 400m and 400m novice races, while Drummond, 45, will contest the 120m veterans, 300m veterans and 120m novice events.
Wiltshire is one of four Ballarat runners entered in the gift, along with coach O’Dwyer, Joel Bee and Shane Woodrow.