---- — ALTAMONT — After falling one point behind Jared Finn in the driver champion standings through three days of Effingham County Fair harness races, 2011 champion Ronnie Gillespie came back with a vengeance Wednesday afternoon, capturing three wins, and one second-place showing, in seven races.
The Macon, Miss. native started the day with 24 points, but catapulted his way to a lengthy lead by securing 18 more tallies after a phenomenal fourth day.With one day left, Gillespie has opened up a 42-25 lead over Jared Finn. JD Finn is third at 23 points.
In the $1,500 Wessel's Grocery 2-year-old topline pace, Gillespie led from start-to-finish in the opening race. A late push from Liberal and driver Cornelius Cavett on the outside was thwarted by H-Andnharleythejet's closing speed, and Gillespie drove the horse to a five-length win in 2:03 2/5.
Now back in control of the champion standings, Gillespie stretched his lead by winning his second straight race in the $1,500 Altamont Pharmacy 2-year-old topline pace. Gillespie, driving Lostintheshuffle, stormed around the turn with a two-length lead and never looked back, taking the second race in 2:03 2/5.
With Gillespie not driving in the third race, it was somebody's else turn to drive to victory, and JD Finn jumped at the opportunity in the $1,500 Stanfield Chiropractic 3-year-old and up topline trot. Finn and Skyline Happy were in third coming around the final turn, but a late outside move and top-end closing speed fueled a 2:02 3/5 win. Michael White, driving Old Aunt George, led the race for the better part of 1.5 laps, but the horse ran out of steam and dropped to a distant fourth.
Hong Kong Kwyne and trainer-driver Dennis Gardner took the fourth race, a $1,500 First State Bank of Beecher City 3-year-old and up topline colt division battle. Valbon Reve, owned by Altamont's Susan Poe and Linda Beal, and driven by Gary Mills, finished in a close second.
The fastest mile of the day came in the fifth race, and with legendary driver Randall Finn, the Effingham County Fair's career leader in harness victories, it came as no surprise. Finn drove Madoff to a 1:57 2.5 victory, narrowly missing out on a track record, but picking up a blazing-fast win nevertheless. Gillespie and TJ's April Angel led for the first lap, but Gillespie would have to settle for second in the $2,500 Marxman Excavating 3-year-old and up topline pace.
The second-place disappointment wouldn't last long, as Gillespie rebounded with a win in the $2,500 Peoples Bank and Trust 2-year-old topline trot. Gillespie rode Morgans Majestic to the horse's fifth win in five appearances, showing the bright future that lies ahead. Morgans Majestic led from the first turn until the finish line, crossing in 2:07 3/5.
In the final race, the $1,340 First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust non-winners lifetime pace, JD Finn nabbed his second victory of the day driving Allstar Girl. Perhaps the most exciting finish of the day, a four-across pack emerged at the final turn. Finn took the lead from the furthest outside, closing for a 2:02 3/5 victory.
Only one day of harness racing remains, and it will be up to a field of challengers to battle for Gillespie's top spot.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Results: Race 1 (Wessel's Grocery): 1. Ronnie Gillespie-H-andnharleythejet (2:03 2/5). 2. Cornelius Cavett-Liberal. 3. Clap Simpson-Big Matty.Race 2 (Altamont Pharmacy): 1. Ronnie Gillespie-Lostintheshuffle (2:03 1/5). 2. Clay Simpson-Codey Shark. 3. Tom Tetrick-Indiana Jones.Race 3 (Stanfield Chiropractic): 1. JD Finn-Skyline Happy (2:02 3/5). 2. Darla Martin-Tometta Byrd. 3. E. Leroy Moore-Winsome Wyoming.Race 4 (First State Bank of Beecher City): 1. Dennis Gardner-Hong Kong Kwyne (2:02 2/5). 2. Gary Mills-Valbon Reve. 3. E. Leroy Moore-Skyline View.Race 5 (Marxman Excavating): 1. Randall Finn-Madoff (1:57 2/5). 2. Ronnie Gillespie-TJ's April Angel. 3. Tom Simmons-Long Term. Race 6 (Peoples Bank and Trust): 1. Ronnie Gillespie-Morgans Majestic (2:07 3/5). 2. Cornelius Cavett-Missy's Misfit. 3. Ladarrius Whitaker-St. Elian's Fire.Race 7 (First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust): 1. JD Finn-Allstar Gal (2:02 2/5). 2. C. Alan Finn-Keeping Me Alive. 3. Randall Finn-Call Me Elizabeth.