It’s taken two years, 30 races and an astonishing back-to-back win but male athletes with the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club finally cracked it for a one, two, three finish in the five kilometre Stephen Baird Handicap at Stawell last Saturday.
Females have been dominant, winning 17 of the 30 and landing a host of “quinellas” and “trifectas” since 2011 to bask in a run of success that has been unprecedented in the club’s 47 year history.
But the drought ended in confounding fashion in the Ironbarks when the 63-year-old warhorse Bob Freeland defied the handicapper by having the audacity to follow his win over a lung-sapping 16 kilometres with a repeat in the 5km “scamper” just seven days later.
If Freeland was surprised by his “first ever” win over the longer distance he was less than dismayed that he was able to complete the double, which is a rarity in handicap racing. “You always think at the start of the season which races best suit you and this is one I picked out,” he said. “It starts with a downhill run and finishes with a long uphill. I was fitter after the 16km race but to win that race was simply a bonus.”
It wasn’t as if Freeland didn’t have history over the short course. He was a finalist in the Stawell Gift in 1969 and finished fourth and was pipped in the Veterans Mile there some years later.
He reeled in the front-markers Sandra Casey and Gary Saunders early in Baird, set up a commanding lead and was able to withstand a late rally by Peter Barham to be first to the timekeepers by 0.11 seconds with backmarker Nathaniel Warren storming into third place a further 0.16 seconds behind.
Warren, the reigning Club Champion, recorded fastest time of 20.08 minutes with fastest female Meggy Boan (22.17) leading the girls home to be fourth on handicap. Georgie Taylor won the Junior division of the race in a smashing time of 21.59 while Atalia Chaplin, was a brave winner of the Sub Juniors race over 2km just ten days after an appendectomy.
Atalia overpowered Kayla Membrey to score by 0.24 seconds with previous winner Logan Casey battling on strongly into third place.
The club travels to Great Western Racecourse on Sunday for the inaugural eight kilometre Seppelts Cross Country Classic which is open to fun runners of all ages. Phone 53562493 for details.
By Keith Lofthouse