A hot pie and a cold Coke was all it took to dupe the bookies at Australia’s richest foot race.
Twelve months earlier, the favourite to take out the Stawell Gift had blown out his hamstring in the semi-finals.
Instead of wallowing in misery, Scott Antonich undertook a rigorous training regime and by 1988, his legs were like steel springs again.
But when he ran the fastest heat time, the bookies, already a wary bunch, reacted accordingly.
The safest avenue, they decided, was pay two-to-one odds in case the Antonich kid was as good as the rumours. It meant his stable’s chance of getting a payout plummeted dramatically.
So they devised a plan.
“Sammy the coach, being an old pro runner, he knew I was a twin and my brother was coming down,” Scott said, speaking ahead of this weekend’s 137th running of the Stawell Gift.
The story goes that his twin brother, Paul, in a tracksuit, sauntered through the betting ring with a hot pie and a cold drink in his hand.
“Strangely a lot of people were coming up and saying I shouldn’t be having the meat pie, I shouldn’t be drinking a Coke,” Paul said.
“I just shrugged me shoulders and just continued on my merry way.
“I don’t know if it fooled the bookies, but a lot of people came up and wanted to take a photo with me, wanted me to a sign an autograph.”
Coach walked away with ‘bag of cash’
Amazingly, the ploy, which could be straight out of Hollywood, worked and the odds were suddenly in their favour.
When the sound of the starting gun rang out over Stawell’s Central Park, Scott Antonich ran the race of his life and was the first to cross the finish line. The bookies couldn’t believe it.
“I wish I could turn back the clocks and do it all over again,” Scott said.
But it wasn’t just pay day for him. Sammy the coach was a very lucky man that day.
“He’d won a bag and the whole bag was just full. I think it was about $30,000 in pure cash,” Scott said.
But how about Paul, the linchpin of the hoax?
“Even after the race, he was signing autographs. He thought it was an amazing feeling,” Scott said.
“Some of the ladies still thought there was only one of us, but there was two of us. So Paul’s had a good trot with that.”
‘A wonderful moment’
Stawell Gift historian Murray McPherson said it was one of the greatest coups in the race’s history.”The bookies all thought that Scott had broken down again,” he said.
“Out went the odds, the stable pounced, they got their money on and the bookies were not happy when they saw the twin brothers embracing after he won the 1988 gift.
“[It was] a wonderful moment.”
After the race, the twins headed back to the Colonial Motor Inn at Halls Gap where Scott noticed a woman behind the bar.
They wouldn’t see each other again for two decades, but when they did the stars aligned. They’ve now been married for 10 years.
He said the Stawell Gift has changed his life.
“It’s one of those things that you’ve won the Stawell Gift and you’ve won your wife. Two in one,” Scott said.
He’ll be at the Gift again this weekend, he’s only ever missed once race in 1985.
“It’s just given me so much confidence, winning an event like that. It’s just opened up so many doors.”
The Stawell Gift running carnival began on Saturday and ends on Monday.