FOR some professional runners, Sunday’s Ararat Gift is a prelude to the much bigger Maryborough Gift on New Year’s Day.
But for a Ballarat group coached by Rod Mathews, it is a worthy prize in itself.
Mathews trained yesterday at City Oval along with fellow Ballarat runners Chris Livitsanos, Rod Hansen and Andrew Curran ahead of the Ararat Gift meeting.
Mathews, 44, and Livitsanos, 50, have entered the 120m open main event at Ararat, while Hansen, 37, has entered the 400m and 1600m events, and 32-year-old Curran the 400m.
“It’s a small contingient but we like to support Ararat. It’s a great little meeting,” Mathews said yesterday.
“At my age you take anything that comes along. If it pans out for me, I’d definitely be aiming to win it.
“It is a great opportunity for a guy to have a win on Sunday who might not be likely to figure at Maryborough.”
The date of the Ararat Gift has been moved this season from the March Labour Day weekend, to just prior to the Maryborough Gift.
Mathews said he was not sure if the move from late in the gift calendar to before the big races would prove beneficial for the meeting, in terms of the quantity and quality of runners entered.
“When it was in March, it was a good opportunity for guys not successful in Bendigo to have success, and also for a lot of South Australians to come across. It then changed to follow Ballarat, but it was still a bit of a consolation race,” Mathews said.
“This is the first year they’ve gone out two days prior to Maryborough. The big Bay Sheffield Gift, which is South Australia’s answer to Stawell, is on this week, and then there’s the Burnie Gift, which is on the same day as Maryborough, so it remains to be seen how it all goes.
“Some will use Ararat as a hit out to get a feel for the competition before Maryborough.
“Others, who would be looking to run well at Maryborough, might decide not to run at Ararat. Two days out might be asking too much to then front up at Maryborough.”
Matthews has a handicap mark of 11m at Ararat for the 120m open, and for the Maryborough Gift.
He will also contest the 100m veterans-women’s off 3m at Ararat, and the 120m veterans at Maryborough off 3.5m, just ahead of backmarker and fellow Ballarat veteran Peter O’Dwyer off 2.25m.
The 1999 Stawell Gift and 2009 Ballarat Gift champion said victory at Ararat or Maryborough was not out of the question.
“Handicaps get generous as you get older, so you never know,” he said.