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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Stawell Gift's intrigue keeps John Henry coming back - Story from 2010 but worth reading again!

Stawell Gift's intrigue keeps John Henry coming back - Story from 2010 but worth reading again!

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Great article by the Herald-Sun's Scott Gullan from 2010 about John Henry's love of the Stawell Gift. I just saw it and thought it was worth re-publishing.

Lifelong love of Stawell Gift's intrigue keeps John Henry coming back  

By Scott Gullan  
 Herald Sun  
March 31, 2010

Raring to go: Athletics coach John Henry never misses the Stawell Gift. Picture: Ellen Smith  
JOHN Henry pauses. He has been asked to put into words the beauty of pro running.  
"The amateur running I find absolutely boring," he said. "What I love about pro running is the intrigue, not only at Stawell, but at every meeting you go to."

For the best part of half a century, Henry has been involved in the intrigue as a runner, bookmaker's clerk and coach. He hasn't missed a Stawell Gift carnival since 1962 and remembers vividly the first time his father took him to Australia's famous footrace in 1948, when he was six.

After leaving school, Henry had a few professional fights as a boxer before turning to running. He won his first race, a heat of the 70m, at Pakenham.

"I was in the red and it poured down with rain but I got up," he said.

A couple of times he thought he was a chance at Stawell and in 1975 he won his heat but then ran into the man many regard as the greatest runner to have graced Central Park, Madagascar's Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa.

"When the gun went it felt like I had only gone two strides and he was past me," Henry said. "It was actually probably more like halfway down the straight but it felt like he'd picked me up that quick. The track was wet, it was like a quagmire, and to win it off scratch like that was an enormous run."

In 1978 Henry hung up the spikes and became involved in what many believe to be the most important side of the caper - betting. As a bookmaker's clerk, he has seen, or been a part of, some of the great stings.

"It's changed a hell of a lot," he said. "At your normal meetings you used to be able to earn a quid, but these days the runners don't back themselves like they used to, stables don't back themselves like they used to.

"Back in the old days, a race like the Bendigo Gift was worth 1000 to the winner and on top of that came the winnings from betting. That was a lot of money then and you had guys coming down from interstate and winning enough money to build a house or flats."

Henry's best betting story is a plunge that failed. In 1986 he was associated with a stable that had set a runner, Chris Ryan, to win the Gift.

"He was out at about 10m and we went in and got 33-1, backed him into 6-4 on the Friday night," he said.

"He had a fairly easy heat, so we made sure he won but didn't run too quick. There were two other runners who went faster in the heats, so we have gone there on the Monday morning and they've pushed him out to 33s again. So we have gone into him again."

Ryan finished third behind the Neil King-trained "Vern" Chapman and Robert Ballard, who ended up representing Australia as a sprinter.

"Fancy going there thinking you can win Stawell and you strike two blokes on the novice mark having their first go and they end up to be great runners," Henry said.

He started coaching in 1998 but said it was only in the past five years he had nailed down the caper.

While he has runners littered through three states, most of his 15-man squad trains out of Werribee.

At the weekend, one of his runners, David Tinney, won the Don Furness Memorial 70m sprint at St Bernard's, the third time in four years a Henry-trained runner has won.

"We go where the money is," Henry said. "That win on the weekend took us up to over $40,000 we have won this season but having said that only $12,000$13,000 of that we have won in Victoria.

"We go to Tasmania, we go to the big races in NSW and South Australia. A couple of years ago I even took the squad over to Scotland where we won about 20 races."

He said there was an art to training a professional runner.

"As a coach you are not just trying to train a bloke to run fast, you are picking the right races and trying to organise everything," Henry said.

"Two things must happen for somebody to win: they must be running well and their handicap must be right.

"If either of them are not spot-on, then they can't win."

In other words, the aim is to beat the handicapper.

"I don't know anything about running dead," Henry said with a smile.

"I have a theory that you plan for each of your runners to at least try and win their expenses for the season.

"If they are running and can travel all over the place and it's not costing them, you have a happy runner. If they are happy, they will give their best."

The Stawell Gift has eluded Henry so far. This year he has a few chances in Tinney (8.75m), John Adams (6.75m), Kevin Brittain (7.5m), Matthew Hargreaves (7m), Peter Walsh (7.75m) and Matthew Callard (8.75m).

"Somewhere along the line, they'll be looking at one of my people and trying to figure out what is going on," Henry said, in keeping with the intrigue he loves.

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