Reveling on the fast and flat track that brings out the best in him, and – for a change – not getting lost along the way, Gary Saunders staged a form reversal to post his first race win in two years in the five kilometre Andrew Darnell Memorial Handicap at Horsham last Saturday.
Judging on past form, a discouraging 13th, 16th, 9th and 9th from his previous four starts, the club’s oldest runner could not win the event on the banks of the Wimmera River, but those familiar with Gary’s “A game” thought an upset was on the cards.
Dogged by injury last year, Gary, 69, should have won at the same venue in 2010 but missed the turnaround on the outward reach along the river and was heading to Stawell when last spotted well off course.
In 2009, he was favourite to win the same race but again lost sight of the markers – and that time he was headed in the opposite direction, towards Dimboola!
Thankful for the guidance of an invitational runner, who pushed a pram along the way, Gary was never headed and never in doubt as he easily accounted for husband and wife team Rick Price and Selina Heard-Price who were respectively 36 seconds and 50 seconds in arrears.
Horsham has proved to be a happy hunting ground for Gary whose past five wins have been within the precincts of the flatlands town.
Gary, who is based at Deep Lead and trains in the Ironbarks Forest, said: “It’s pretty obvious that the course suits me but I was a bit nervous before the race because I hadn’t heard the instructions and wasn’t confident that I wouldn’t bugger things up again. That would have been embarrassing.”
Col Barnett, aggregate leader and fastest in five of the previous seven runs this season, suffered a setback when forced to withdraw with a calf injury soon after the start. This enabled Anthony Morey to record his first fastest time with the club, a dashing 18 minutes 40 seconds.
Promising youngster Raine Mackley ran an outstanding 19minutes 54 seconds (the second fastest time of the day!) to sprint away from Paris Panozzo and Tobias Blair in the junior division of the race while sisters Oriana and Mia Panozzo fought out the finish of the shorter sub-juniors race with only five seconds separating them.
By Keith Lofthouse