Evergreen runner Gary Saunders staged a form reversal, something not infrequent on a racetrack, when he stunned his faster, fitter and younger rivals to win the eight kilometre Seppelts Cross Country Classic at Great Western racecourse last Sunday.
After a 15th, two 16ths and a 9th at his past three starts with the Stawell and Ararat Cross Country Club the grey-bearded Saunders, who will be 75 next year, confounded pre-race tipsters when he trundled to an easy win in the “race for wine” posting a time that was 1.28 minutes faster than he managed last year.
Saunders was the absolute front-marker, who received up to 14 minutes start from his more youthful opponents under the club’s handicapping conditions, but at the winning post 2.11 minutes still separated him from runner-up Sue Blizzard, despite her running a personal best.
“I haven’t run well here (at the racetrack) before so I didn’t give myself much chance, but I guess that’s proved to be psychological,” a bemused Saunders said.
“It just goes to show how important race fitness it. I was running reasonably well at the start of the season but missed a couple of races and a lot of training when I was away on holidays.”
The winner was undoubtedly flattered by pre-race injuries to several of the club’s elite athletes – Paul Fenn, Simon Gallagher and Ian McCready among them, and the absence of Rhonda Rice and Andrew Reynolds due to family commitments – two previous winners of the Seppelt, who would have been in the thick of the action again.
This was a race within a race – Saunders also representing the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club in the “combined event” – and winning that as well, but not quite so easily with just a 57 second margin from last start winner Keith Lofthouse and Rob Blythman in his rookie season.
Both clubs look forward to their first 10 kilometre races of the season this weekend – the Stawell Amateurs line-up tomorrow (Saturday) for the Run For Ray Scott, which starts near the rifle range, and the SACCC meet at the Newington Dam, on the Deep Lead road, for the J and S Logan Memorial Handicap. Fun runners are welcome to join in from 9.30am at both venues.