WITH only a handful of interstate runners taking part at the Latrobe Carnival today, local sprinters will have their best chance of success before the mainland invasion at Devonport and Burnie.
Tasmanian Athletics League commentator Brian Paine has cast his expert eye over the field for The Examiner and has picked North-West runner John Howe has his favourite to take the men's gift and Hobart teenager Lily Castle as the one to beat in the women's.
"John Howe has already picked up a couple of wins this year and I think he will make it number three in the Latrobe Gift," Paine said.
"Talented Hutchins 15-year-old Russel Taib is the state under-16, 100-metre, 200m and 400m champion who has had three wins out of four starts this season and is one of the most exciting young prospects I've seen for many years in Tasmania.
"Jesse Usoalii won three races last season and I think he can run even better.
"Since then he has picked up the Tasmanian 100m championship and is my choice to finish in third spot."
Hobart's Luke Whitney, Burnie's Dave McCrae and Wynyard footballer Jorden Englund were other outside chances along with Launceston Stawell gift winner Andrew Robinson, who is flying and could make the final.
But Paine thought Robinson would find it hard to catch the in- form middle markers from his back mark of 1.25m, courtesy of being pulled by handicappers after his victory in the prestigious Easter event.
"There are only four mainlanders in the seven heats and the best chance of those is the Mark Hipworth-trained Robert Spencer who won the Devonport maiden last year and has been running well at the Victorian carnivals," he said.
The diminutive Ray-Quarrell trained Lily Castle was his favourite in the women's gift.
"The 16-year-old is small in stature but big in ability and is the current Tasmanian under-18 100m and 200m champion and was in fair form at the first two carnivals this year.
"Sandy Loring is capable of winning her second Latrobe Gift after winning in 2009 and will be hard to catch off 9.75m.
"Michelle Davis has 28 TAL race wins and off 10.75m, could make it win number 29 in the gift final."
Cambridge runner and Burnie Gift finalist Kiara Chambers, Ulverstone's Abbey Chapman, Richmond's Ella Scott and 2011 winner in Carmen Oakley, of Latrobe, were other chances.
"Dual Burnie Gift winner and current Tasmanian sprint champion Morgan Gaffney will have to be at her peak to get up from 2.25m," Paine said.
Carnivals athletics co-ordinator Rod Walker opted for Hobart runners Luke Whitney and Bruny Island's Michelle Davis as his choices saying both had competed well in races on the mainland recently.