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Aug. 5—Heading into the final day of harness racing, Wyatt Avenatti trailed Altamont-native Richard Finn by 13 points.
The lead wasn't insurmountable, even though Avenatti believed he would have difficulty catching the hometown driver.
"At the beginning of the day, I didn't think I had a shot," Avenatti said. "My first couple of horses raced pretty well, and Jamaica [Patton] put me on a horse that gave me just enough points. If I didn't get that drive, I would have lost by one point, so the one drive he gave me put me over the top."
What Avenatti believed was not what came to fruition, though, as the Chrisman-native overcame a double-digit deficit to take the driver's championship.
Avenatti said it was his first driver's championship since coming to the fair in 2014.
"About three years ago, I was close; I think I finished second in the points standings to Freddie Patton Jr.," Avenatti said. "It was a tight race. Richard [Finn] and I are good buddies, and we've been talking the whole day about it."
Avenatti ended the day with 16 points. He won three races and came in second in the other two.
His first win came in the Topline Pace, where he drove "Letmeincoach" in 2:02. Finn was second after driving "Coach Mamacita" in 2:05.2, and Tony Kimbrough was third after driving "I Can Have Mercy" in 2:06.2.
"The first drive, when I saw the races come out, I thought I could win the first one," Avenatti said. "The problem was that Richard picked up a drive and finished second, so I won and made up a little ground, but it wasn't as much as I was hoping to make. It set the tone well."
Avenatti then placed second in the Topline Up Trot before winning the Topline Up Pace by driving "Mastery" in 1:58.3. He defeated Patton Jr., who drove "Ara Dash" in 2:00.
Following his second win, Avenatti suddenly found himself three points from tying Finn for the lead and four points from taking sole possession of it with three races to go.
From there, all Avenatti did was earn eight more points.
After not competing in the Topline Trot, Avenatti and "Prince of Style" placed second in the Maiden Pace, giving him the three points to tie the lead. However, that lead was only for a split second, as Finn finished in third to retake a one-point advantage, setting up the penultimate race.
Driving "Commander Bob," Avenatti got off to a fast start, leading after the first quarter mile, and never looked back as he led the entirety of the race to take the championship in 1:58.1 — two-tenths of a second faster than Finn, who placed second with "Kage Daniel."
The win for Avenatti wasn't just a victory for him, though; it was instead for everyone involved.
"The trainers and the grooms do a lot, especially on a hot day; they do a lot to keep the horse good and cool," Avenatti said. "During this meet, we raced horses within a few days of each other, and it's a little closer than we usually do, so when we go home to the farm, they do a lot more to help them recover. The way we train, our horses tend to recover faster.
"I'm lucky I have 12 horses in training right now, so I was able to spread out my horses where I raced."
Avenatti finished with 45 points. Finn was second with 44, and Jordan Patton and Archie Buford tied for third with 21.
The final drivers' championship standings are below.
Wyatt Avenatti = 45
Richard Finn = 44
Jordan Patton = 21
Archie Buford = 21
Freddie Patton Jr. = 18
Marcus Turner = 17
Michael Rogers = 16
Jamaica Patton = 15
Matthew Avenatti = 11
JD Lewis = 11
Atlee Bender = 9
Cornelius Cavett = 9
Danarius Dortch = 9
Cordarius Stewart = 8
Albert Plair = 8
Chris Brown = 7
Robert Decker = 6
Juan Franco = 6
Brendan Potts = 5
Douglas Graham = 5
C. Alan Finn = 5
Frank Fisher = 5
Curt Grummel = 5
Barry Bell = 5
Darla Martin Lohman = 4
Steven Searle = 4
Jerome Daniels = 3
Jacob Roedl = 3
Jackson Loy = 3
Wayne Decker = 2
Dennis Bankston = 2
Daniel Shetler = 1
Harold Finn Jr. = 1
John Smith = 1
Tyler Stevens-Clemons = 1
Tony Kimbrough = 1
Michael Knicley = 1
Contact EDN Sports Editor Alex Wallner at 618-510-9231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.