Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

King George Has History against Him

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

King George Has History against Him

Article excerpt

Byline: By Bill McGuirk

George Charlton admits he faces a daunting task if he is to retain his New Year Sprint crown after winning last year's event in a photo finish.

Only two athletes have ever won the famous Powderhall event on consecutive occasions since the race was first run in 1870.

F Kilgour of Edinburgh achieved the feat in 1876-77 and Willie McFarlane (Glasgow) in 1933-34, although a number of runners have won it twice with an interval between.

Charlton, who first contested the legendary race in 1990, made the final on two previous occasions before finally lifting the gold medal and the pounds 6,000 first prize early this year when the race was put back a week because of the cancellation of the traditional Christmas horse racing meeting.

"Handicap racing is similar to horse racing in one sense," said North Shields-based Charlton.

"Not many horses win the Grand National two years running, though there are exceptions.

"And it's the same in the New Year Sprint. Once you win you are `pulled' a metre or two, so it makes the task of winning 12 months later extremely difficult.

"Having said that, I wouldn't be lining up if I didn't think I was in with a chance even though I've been pulled three metres to 12.5m for last year's success."

The New Year Sprint, formerly known as the Powderhall, is a unique event in the annals of sporting history, it being the last of the old-time pedestrian galas.

It has been an annual New Year event for 135 years, even being run during the two World Wars, and the format remains unchanged.

This year's 16 heats of 110m are handicapped to ensure close finishes, with supporters betting on the outcome of each race.

While gambling is still a major part of the enjoyment of the event, gone are the days of huge betting coups and malpractice that went with it, but the tradition, spirit and atmosphere remain.

Over the years the region has had its fair share of glory and during the late 1940s Blyth's Albert Spence dominated the scene, running in five finals and winning in 1947.

Whitley Bay's Eric Smart triumphed in 1988 and Craig Telford of Newcastle in 2001, and the pair will once again grace the undulating Musselburgh Racecourse surface next Tuesday, hoping to progress through to, at least, the semi-finals the following day. …

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