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.
In the second race of the day, Altamont's young-gun Kyle Husted drove Fox Valley Dijon to a win in the Doug McCain's Barbeque Sauce 2 and 3-year colt division open pace. Husted drove Fox Valley Dijon to a two-length lead at the first turn, and held off the competition for a 2:02 1/5 win. At the time, the win placed him just four points behind Gillespie's total and all even with Finn, but the final three races belonged to his adversaries.
The first race was won by driver Cassidy Melloy and Hoosier Chatter. Melloy was also a winner during Sunday's first day of competition. Hoosier Chatter's time of 2:00 2/5 was the fastest mile of the day in the Dust & Son Auto Supply 2 and 3-year-old open pace filly division.
Only two days of harness racing are left, and if the first three afternoons are any indication, it's anybody's championship to win.
The top three for the five races were as follows:Race 1 (Dust & Son Auto Supply): 1. Cassidy Melloy-Hoosier Chatter (2:00 2/5). 2. Ronnie Gillespie-Imarockurroll 3. Darla Martin-Te's Ruffian Race 2 (Doug McCain's Barbeque Sauce): 1. Kyle Husted-Fox Valley Dijon (2:02 1/5). 2. Ronnie Gillespie-American Desire. 3. Darla Martin-Incredibly Sporty. Race 3 (Dale Wetherell COnstruction): 1. Ronnie Gillespie-Zanny (2:06). 2. David martin-Dreaming Of Lori. 3. Darla Martin-Powerful Felix.Race 4 (Sports's Beverage Connection): 1. Jared Finn-Monique's Hero (2:07 1/5). 2. Ladarrius Whitaker-BC's Golden Girl. 3. Michael Johnson-Uptown Shooter.Race 5 (K-Bowl): 1. Jared Finn-Wannabearockstar (2:09 2/5). 2. David Martin-Majestic Emotion. 3. Robert Decker-Poppy Gram.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at email@example.com