Thinking of cheating the handicappers for the upcoming WesTrac Bunbury Geographe Gift? You may want to think again.

This year’s handicapper Mark O’Brien is dedicated to his craft. He frequently spends 25-30 hours a week in his voluntary role, running formulas in his own time to make certain that everyone is given a fair-go come race day.

O’Brien is no stranger to the world of competitive racing; he has spent most of his life in various athletic roles.

Once an avid athlete himself, he has been handicapping competitions for the past eleven years for the Victorian Athletic League and independently, including overseeing the Stawell Gift – a major inspiration for the original Bunbury Golden Gift and now the new event.

He now works for an accounting firm, fuelling his flair for numbers, and continues his passion for athletics handicapping on a volunteer basis.

This wealth of experience means O’Brien knows what to look out for when calculating an individual’s handicap.

“You can learn a lot from an athlete’s form. Online records now make the job a little easier, but it’s up to the handicapper to put the time in to get accurate results.”

O’Brien is confident he can pick an athlete who may be trying to cheat the system.

More often than not though, he says it isn’t necessarily the athletes you want to look out for.

“Athletes mostly just want to run. A lot of the ‘skulduggery’ you find will come from coaches looking to cheat the handicappers.”

However if a coach does try to subvert the system, O’Brien will not likely forget, “their file is marked, and we will treat them with greater caution in the future.”

Ultimately he says it’s up to the athletes to play fair, and is a firm believer of communication and mutual respect to get the most accurate results from athletes.

In such a competition like the WesTrac Bunbury Geographe Gift, with a staggering $78,000 total prize pool at stake, you may wonder ‘why handicap at all?’  Handicapping, while it seems a tedious task, results in a more entertaining race according to O’Brien.

“With most national and international races, you can pretty much predict the one or two people who are likely to win, but just like the Melbourne cup, handicapping just means everyone has an equal opportunity.”

With an even playing field, absolutely everyone must try their best on the day for a shot at the prize, “you never know who’s going to win.”