AIKEN -- Jim Larente made sure he didn't stop racing until his horse had crossed the finish line this time.
The final leg of the Triple Crown came to a close Saturday with the Harness Races at McGee's Mile Track before an estimated 6,000 spectators.
The eight-race schedule was highlighted by two photo finishes, one in which took more than 10 minutes before Larente was declared the winner after several looks at video footage. Larente's South Land had a commanding lead in the fourth race before Edd Webb's Carolina Austin sneaked up to make the finish tight.
"I thought I definitely had it won," Larente said. "He snuck in there late and made it interesting and it was good for the two-year-old pacers. The crowd enjoyed it. I could've probably pushed a little harder and won by a half a length, but I didn't."
However, the trainer and driver did spread the margin in the seventh race for open trotters when he drove CTM Dot Com to a comfortable victory over Mr. Morris. Larente credits the winter weather for the day's fast times.
"All of the horses trained well this winter," he said. "We were able to train without any delays because it (weather) held up so nice. We're probably three or four seconds ahead of ourselves at this point in the race season."
The fastest time on the day came for track owners Janis and Bruce McGee's horse. Janis McGee drove Hot Spell to a win in the final race of the day. Hot Spell ran a time of 2:04 in the mile run, the best pacer time of the afternoon.
It took another video challenge before it was determined that Hot Spell edged out charging Kassie Koal, driven by Jill Johnson.
Not all of the races were that close. Robert Sullivan drove Carolina Ed to the fastest trotter time of the day with a 2:07 finish in the featured Miller Lite race, held for 3-year-olds.
Carolina Ed, which had never won a race until Saturday, was never threatened, but drew a formidable charge from Larente's Tote The Note. The 3-year-old will run in the May 27 Red Mile in Lexington, Ky., where he may be a strong contender.
"I knew he could trot that fast," Sullivan said. "In a way, it surprised me, but I knew he was capable."
The trotter, who won more than $10,000 a year ago, is expected to be sold at the Red Mile races despite Saturday's success.
Owner Max Willis said, "He'll be as good as any trotter we have. He hadn't won before, but he's had a lot of strong finishes. When they age is when they come into their own. He'll definitely be sold up there."
Security Federal Race
1. Crown of Scarlet (2:23), Howard Gill (driver, trainer, owner)
3. CSI George Burns
Burger King Race
1. Carolina Peden (2:14), William Arthurs (driver, trainer), John and Lyne Mondrick (owners)
2. Beauty of Spring
3. PC Candy
Bank of America Race
1, D.D's Noteworthy (2:22), William Arthurs (driver, trainer), Carole Gilbert (owner); 2, CSI Ricochet; 3, Bittersweet Ashley.
USCA/ REA Classic
1, South Land (2:10), Jim Larente (driver, trainer), Charter Oak Stable (owner); 2, Carolina Austin; 3, Davids Rainbow.
Miller Lite Dash
1, Carolina Ed (2:07), Robert Sullivan (driver, trainer), Max Willis (owner); 2, Tote The Note; 3, Heather Marta.
Atlantic Coast Homes Race
1, Treeline-Court (2:06), Howard Gill (driver, trainer, owner); 2, Doubletime Sparkle; 3, Tayana's Contest.
SKF Race (open trotters)
1, CTM Dot Com (2:08), Jim Larente (driver, trainer), Dr. Bruce Wenger (owner); 2, Mr. Morris; 3, Grand Wazoo.
Aiken Coca Cola Race
1, Hot Spell (2:04), Janis McGee (driver, trainer), Janis and Bruce McGee (owners); 2, Kassie Koal; 3,. Emir Bayama.
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