AUSTRALIAN sprint champion Josh Ross will have a huge mountain to climb when he lines up in next weekend’s Ballarat Gift.
The 31-year-old is poised to become the first man in the modern era to start the event from behind scratch, with handicappers expected to hand him a mark of -0.75m for the 120m dash.
Ross said he was confident of overcoming the mark to win the $20,000 feature.
“Most definitely,” he told The Courier yesterday.
“(It’s) another goal, another challenge and I’ll use it to make me faster in the future.
“I’m the stronger runner so while those guys (out in front) are slowing down drastically, I’m kind of still holding the same pace and that’s where I win the races, in the last 5-10m.
“That’s where I’m really dominant.”
Ross’ appearance at the Ballarat Gift will be his first, with the speedster having only passed through the city on his way to compete in the Stawell Gift, which he won in 2003 and 2005.
“It’s a perfect fit to my schedule so that’s why I’m running,” Ross said.
“To win a historical event like (Ballarat) would be a privilege and an honour, especially because it’s so close to Stawell.”
The dual Olympian has returned to his best this season, becoming the first athlete in 126 years to win South Australia’s Bay Sheffield Gift from scratch and also triumphing in the St Albans Gift from the same mark.
Reigning Stawell Gift winner Matt Wiltshire says he hopes to line up against Ross at Eureka Stadium.
“It will be awesome to have him here,” Wiltshire said.
“You always want to race against the best, and he’s definitely the best at the moment.”
Meanwhile, local sprinter and 2013 Maryborough Gift winner Joel Bee has been scratched from the event because of a back injury sustained in Sunday’s Albury Gift, in which he finished second.
Despite Bee’s absence, organisers are thrilled with the interest received for the two-day carnival.
In total, 750 open athlete entries have been accepted, up more than 100 on last year and the biggest number since 2009.
Heats of the Ballarat Gift will be run next Saturday, with the final to be held at 3.30pm on Sunday.