Michael Hanna could barley contain his relief after he claimed the 120-metre men's Gift final on Sunday.
The presence of 2016 Stawell Gift champion Isaac Dunmall provided the push the Sydney-sider needed to win the $8500 showcase in a time of 12.273 seconds.
He said he had his eye on Dunmall the entire time.
"Being a Stawell gift winner definitely made it tough, he said.
"But having him there was a good push for me to get my start right and run the race I wanted to."
Hanna was quick out of the blocks despite a tight 4.75-metre handicap. He wasted no time in running down Chris Vi, who claimed runner-up honours after being pipped at the line off a 10.50m mark.
Matt Burleigh took out third place, while Dunmall ran eighth off the tightest handicap of 4.50m.
Hanna said his good start provided the platform to victory.
"I always concentrate on my start so I can get up and fly through nicely, and in the last 20 metres I was able to come home as strong as I could," he said.
"I knew the finish was very close, but I could hear the commentators so I knew I was in with a chance."
The win marked the first victory in the city for Hanna, who entered the event at the behest of his father.
He said he'd travelled through the Ballarat numerous times but had never stopped to have a look.
"I've heard great things about Ballarat and I normally try and pick a few Victoria races in the lead up to the Stawell Gift and this one was at the top of the list," he said.
Meanwhile training partners Patrick Martin (28m) and Hugh Hoffman (28m) claimed first and second in the 400-metre backmarkers.
It was a big thrill for the Ballarat pair, who are members of the Pod Squad. After getting off to a slow start, Martin said the crowd willed him home.
"I had the crowd behind me, the pod squad was behind me as a home runner - It was unreal," he said.
The race marked the second final in as many years for Martin, who came fourth in the same event last year. The 17-year-old said he was determined to go one step better in 2020.
"I had my eyes set on the event. I knew I could do it, I just had to execute well and I got there in the end," he said.
After bowing out in the 120-metre Gift semi-final earlier in the day, Hoffman said he couldn't be happier for his stablemate.
"We'll remember this for years to come," he said.