THE organiser of the 149th New Year Sprint is looking forward to a close contest with several past winners in the field. 

Frank Hanlon has been behind the traditional January 1 race, which takes place at Musselburgh Racecourse, for more than quarter of a century and was pleased to see the number of entries increase this year.

Sixty-six competitors have put their names forward for the heats, scheduled to take place at Meadowmill on Saturday, an increase of six from a year ago. 

Former winners Dylan Ali (2014) and Leigh Marshall (2009) will clash in the weekend’s heats, while last year’s winner Greg Kelly(pictured below) will return to try and defend his title. East Lothian Courier:

A year ago, 18 runners failed to show for the heats and entries were down to just 60 but Hanlon told Courier Sport: “It is good to see the entries back up again this year.”

The race promoter added: “I’m hoping that Jack Frost stays away – we had bad weather a few years ago and the race had to be cancelled but we’ve been quite lucky in recent years.

“It should be a good day at Musselburgh – you always get a big crowd there because of the [horse] racing.”

East Lothian Courier:

Hanlon spent the run-up to last year’s event in hospital following a nasty fall – but the 73-year-old still managed to make it to the final. 
He admitted this year’s organising had been a little more straightforward.

“I did it all from hospital [last year],” he said.

“I’ve done it for so long that it just runs smoothly so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

“People stepped in and helped out where I wasn’t able.”
When asked whom he felt was favourite to pick up the £4,000 first prize, Hanlon was non-committal.

He did, though, say: “It seems to favour the younger ones now. 
“They just seem to find a little bit more on the day but it will be interesting to see.”

After Saturday’s heats, the semi-finals and final are contested during the National Hunt meeting at Musselburgh Racecourse on New Year’s Day.

The final, at about 2.15pm, is expected to be shown live on ITV as part of its horseracing coverage from the county racecourse.

And the promoter is once more offering a £20,000 bonus to anyone who beats the world professional record of 11.14 seconds over 120 yards (approximately 110m), set by Tranent’s George McNeill 47 years ago.

Any runner with a time of 11.24 seconds will earn a £2,000 prize, while a time of 11.34 seconds will earn £1,000.

In the event that bad weather forces the cancellation of the horse racing card, the final will also be postponed and take place at the rescheduled National Hunt meeting.

Hanlon is already looking forward to “the big one” in a year’s time when the historic event celebrates its 150th anniversary.

And the promoter, for whom this is the 26th sprint he has overseen, has no plans to cease his involvement, at least in the short term. 

He said: “If someone came to me and said they’d like to do it then I would [step aside] but there’s nobody interested.

“I suppose I’ll have to at some point – we don’t go on forever – but I’ll keep it going just now.”

Hanlon was keen to see a good turnout at Meadowmill on Saturday, with free entry for spectators as the action begins at 10am.