ALTAMONT — The dust has settled after Day 3 of harness racing at the Effingham County Fair, and it has become a back-and-forth battle for the honor of driving champion.
Through three races on Tuesday, Chicago-born Ronnie Gillespie, the 2011 driving champion, had taken a sizable nine-point lead. Gillespie, who was raised in Mississippi but has since made a splash on the Illinois fair circuit, won the $1,340 Dale Wetherell Construction 3-year-old open trot to open up a 24-15 lead in the standings over Newton's Jared Finn.
Gillespie, riding Zanny, owned by Laquinton Shavers of Brandon, Miss., was in third place at the 1/2 mile mark. Siblings Darla Martin and David Martin, driving Powerful Flex and Dreaming of Lori, respectively, took the final turn at a neck-and-neck pace. But Zanny made a late push on the outside and captured a dramatic come-from-behind win by a length and a half in 2:06 flat.
Following Gillespie's win in the third race, Finn took advantage of the final two races, where Gillespie was not an entered driver. In a four-horse fourth race, Finn drove Monique's Hero to a start-to-finish victory. The winning time in the $1,280 Sporty's Beverage Connection non-winners pace was 2:07 1/5, and vaulted Finn to within four points of Gillespie's lead at 24-20.
The fifth and final race of the day wasn't the cleanest of performances, as four of the six horses broke stride before the 1/4 mile mark. By the time the first lap was completed in the K-Bowl ICF Maiden 6-year-old-and-under trot, only Finn, riding Wannabearockstar, and one other horse remained in serious contention. But Wannabearockstar was not to be denied, as the winning time of 2:09 2/5 marked a remarkable two-race turnaround for Finn that sent him to the top of the driving champion standings by a single point.