What makes the gift tick?

“I’m a part-time wizard”: Leigh Phelan is among an eclectic bunch competing in Stawell. Picture: Mark Dadswell

Scott GullanHerald Sun

THE beauty of the Stawell Gift is that it gives people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds a chance to line up in Australia’s richest footrace.

They come from far and wide to compete at Central Park as is illustrated by a couple of the fancied runner’s in the men’s event.

Leigh Phelan is a 41-year-old cat behavioural scientist from Brighton who was a 200m finalist at the World Masters Games in Perth last year.

When asked to offer something people wouldn’t know about him, he said: “I’m a part-time wizard.”

Phelan won his heat on Saturday off 9.75m and is rated an $18 chance for today’s Gift.

Matthew Rizzo streaks to victory in his heat at Stawell yesterday. Picture: Mark Dadswell

Matthew Rizzo streaks to victory in his heat at Stawell yesterday. Picture: Mark DadswellSource:News Corp Australia

At the other end of the spectrum is Will Roberts, a 17-year-old HSC student from Sydney who drove down to Stawell with his family as part of an Easter vacation.

He won the U/20 national 200m title a couple of weeks ago and was also runner-up in the 100m.

When Roberts, who is off 4.5m, was asked about an unusual skill, he cheekily offered: “I can cook minute rice in 58 seconds.”

While this is the teenager’s first visit to Stawell he does have a link to the event with his coach, Emil Rizk, having previously mentored two-time Gift winner Joshua Ross.

After an impressive heat victory in 12.33sec, Roberts is the second favourite at $6.50 behind Matthew Rizzo.

“I feel like this is the peak of my season,” he said.

“My coach and I weren’t too happy how my preparation was for the nationals and I knew I wasn’t at my full potential there because of an ankle hiccup.

“I’ve had a good preparation for this and I believe I’m a strong chance, that’s the reason I’ve come down. I believe I can win it.”

They’re all chasing the odds-on favourite Matthew Rizzo (7.5m) who couldn’t have been more impressive clocking the fastest heat time of 12.10sec.

Toea Wisil is one of the favourites for the women’s race. Picture: Mark Dadswell

Toea Wisil is one of the favourites for the women’s race. Picture: Mark DadswellSource:News Corp Australia

Two main contenders emerged in the women’s race after the heats with Papua New Guinea’s Toea Wisil sharing favouritism with 16-year-old schoolgirl Liv Ryan.

Wisil, who won the national 100m title a fortnight ago defeating Australia’s fastest woman Melissa Breen, looked very impressive from the scratch mark on Saturday.

Ryan was the subject of a betting plunge, coming from $31 to $2 in the lead-up to her heat which was the fastest of the day.

Wantirna’s Taylah Perry won the heat in 13.69sec with Ryan third (13.74sec) but she’s been kept safe by bookmakers given the past two Gifts have been won by schoolgirls from the outside marks.

Stawell Gift

Where: Central Park

Prizemoney: $40,000

TV: Channel Seven: Live 11.30am, Easter Monday

Women’s final: 1.50pm

Men’s final: 2.20pm

TAB Betting:

$1.45 Matthew Rizzo (7.5m)

$6.50 Will Roberts (4.5m)

$11 Nathan Riali (4.75m)

$16 David Sonsini (7.75m)

$18 Leigh Phelan (9.75m)

Originally published as What makes the gift tick?

SOURCE: newsnow sport