The women's Stawell Gift has lost some sheen with defending champion Alexia Loizou a late scratching before the heats got underway on Saturday.
With the storied professional footrace, first contested in 1878 in the western Victorian town of Stawell, cancelled last year due to COVID-19, Loizou was set to defend her 2019 title.
But the 22-year-old Melbourne sprinter withdrew along with backmarker Torrie Lewis.
Among those to stake an early claim for the $40,000 prizemoney in the famed 120-metre handicap event was Sophia Fighera, who finished just 0.08 off Loizou's 2019 time of 13.58.
Around 80 women competed in the heats, with the winners from the 11 races and the next-fastest 31 runners progressing.
Fighera set a time of 13.96 off one metre, while South Australian sprinter Hayley Orman posted the fastest time of the heats with a 13.82 off a 9.75m handicap.
In the sixth heat, Queenslander Dianne Waight won with a time of 13.91 off a mark of 5.75 metres with six women underneath the 14-second barrier.
"I was really happy with my heat today, it felt good to run the cobwebs out and I'm pumped for the semis on Easter Monday," said Fighera.
In the men's event South Australian Luke Houlihan recorded the fastest time of of 12.11 off six metres ahead of Edward Ware (12.19 off a mark of 9.75m) and third fastest was 16-year-old Victorian champion Jack Boulton off 5.75m in 12.22.
Defending men's Gift champion Dhruv Rodrigues Chico strolled across the line in the final heat in 12.785.
"I had the luxury to shut off at the end and save my energy, " said Chico, whose handicap is 0.75m.
"Hopefully I can bring the same results (from the Victorian Championships in the 100m and 200m) on Monday and win back to back Gifts.
"It's flattering to be the backmarker, I thought I would be off scratch but the lift might just make the difference on Monday."
The 2018 champion, Jacob Despard, off 1.25m, won his heat in 12.559.