Holly Dobbyn could feel she was clear in front, having burst past all her rivals.
Excitement kicked in, so too the adrenaline, and she surged at the finish to capture the $6000 Stawell Women’s Gift 120m handicap title yesterday.
All preparations had been for this moment after the 17-year-old was forced to pull out of her Ballarat sprint title defence in February with a hamstring injury.
An acute focus on Stawell helped Dobbyn’s patience and diligence in rehabilitation and her training comeback.
Final words from her coach Peter O’Dwyer, an experienced Stawell campaigner, were telling and helped settle nerves.
Dobbyn had been a much-hyped prospect after dominating her heat on Saturday and semi-final earlier in the Easter Monday program.
“He said that I’d done all the work, all I had to do now was run my best,” Dobbyn said.
“I was really nervous for the semi-final but I was settled a bit more for the final.
“The question was all about getting into the final first.”
Dobbyn gives O’Dwyer two feature sprint wins at Stawell as a coach, adding to stablemate Matt Wiltshire’s 2012 Stawell Gift victory.
The Ballarat Grammar student powered off 11.5 metres in the blue to win in 13.13 seconds.
Ararat’s Sarah Blizzard (12.5m) was her runner-up with Durham Lead’s Kate Jones (13.25m) third.
Jones made a dramatic dash to get to the final, after breaking in semi-final one to be pulled one metre and qualifying on a fast time.
The region’s trifecta was impressive but this was all about Dobbyn, who was swamped by a large POD Squad pack from the finishing gates until well after she collected her sash.
O’Dwyer and decorated stablemate Tara Domaschenz chaired Dobbyn past the crowds gathered in Central Park’s historic grandstand, all the way to the podium.
The proud trainer said he knew Dobbyn had the mental toughness to pull off a win on Australian professional racing’s biggest stage.
“When she hurt herself before the Ballarat Gift, Holly was devastated but we made her focus on Stawell and she never put a foot wrong,” O’Dwyer said.
“She’s a dream to coach, does everything you want from her, and she delivered at Stawell.”
Dobbyn said her close friends, training partners and toughest rivals Tara Domaschenz and Grace O’Dwyer had been pivotal in pushing her so much each and every training session to this moment.
There is little rest before Dobbyn is back to training and measuring up her next assignment, although she conceded she might take a week or so off before getting back to work.
“We train all year,” Dobbyn said. “We don’t stop.”
But she loves every minute.
Well done Holly!!