Coming into Wednesday’s fourth and final day of harness racing action at the Clearfield County Fair, Eric Neal and Shawn Johnston were tied with five wins each in the race for the Buster DiSalvo Trophy, awarded to the driver who accumulates the most wins over the four-day program.
Neal and Johnston put on a show Wednesday afternoon in their pursuit of the DiSalvo, combining to win five of the nine races.
But when the dust settled it was Neal who stood tall, edging Johnston 8-7 in the weekly win total to claim the first DiSalvo Trophy of his career.
Johnston and Neal were both entered in the day’s first race — the “Old Master” Pace featuring 3-year-old fillies — but neither was able to gain any early traction in the pursuit of the Disalvo as Stephen White and Sweet Tea Baby claimed the victory.
White and Sweet Tea Baby stalked Neal and Your Mom N Em before surging to challenge the leaders at the 3/4-mile mark and taking the lead down the stretch on the way to a 2-length win in a time of 2:00.3. Johnston and Ideal Bubby were third.
It was the third win of 2019 for Sweet Tea Baby, who has earned over $22K this year.
Neal grabbed a two-race lead over Johnston by winning the next two — the Gerald & Shirley Albert Memorial Pace and the Buster’s Sports Bar Pace — in wire-to-wire fashion.
Neal guided Dancin With Rose to an 8-length victory over Johnston and Cup Of Choice in the Albert Memorial, crossing the line in a time of 2:01.3, then held off Todd Schadel and Queen Bee Hanover by guiding Sure R Lookin Good to the line in 2:01.0 in the Buster’s Pace, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of the nearest competitors.
It was the fourth win in 10 tries for Dancin With Rose in 2019 and the second victory in 15 starts for Sure R Lookin Good this season.
Facing a two-race deficit with six remaining on the card, Johnston shot back in contention with a wire-to-wire run aboard Marvalous Marg, who crossed the line in 2:03.0, 8 3/4 lengths in front of Neal and Marvalous Marley in the Backstage Crew Pace.
But Neal regained his two-race advantage immediately, piloting April Ava to the win in the Butch Flanagan Memorial Pace in a sizzling time of 1:59, beating Roger Hammer and Jukebox Hero to the line by 9 lengths. The track record for 3-year-old pacing fillies was set in 2003, by My Gal Phyl, who posted a 1:57.3.
April Ava and Jukebox Hero both won as 2-year-olds at last year’s Clearfield County Fair.
It was the first win of 2019 for April Ava, who had three wins and 10 seconds in 18 starts last season.
White interrupted the head-to-head battle between Neal and Johnston as the 3-year-old colts and geldings took center stage in the Michael ‘Mikey’ Rowles Memorial Pace.
Just as he did in the opener, White parked his horse (Gran Torino) in the pocket for much of the race before turning on the jets over the final quarter mile.
Gran Torino and the Neal-driven L Dees Hawkins were eye-to-eye and nose-to-nose for a while down the stretch before Gran Torino crossed the line 3/4-lengths in front of L Dees Hawkinsfor his maiden victory.
Schadel made some noise in the next two races, winning both the Brooke Erin Yeager Memorial Pace and the Chester D. Bailey Memorial Pace.
In the Yeager Pace, Schadel and Find One More enjoyed a wire-to-wire trip, while flirting with the track record for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings.
Find One More crossed the line in a time of 1:59.4, just shy of the record 1:59 set by Star of Terror in 2016. Johnston and App Hanover were second, 5 lengths back.
Schadel continued pushing for a track record in the Bailey Memorial.
He piloted Motive Hanover to the front of the pack at the halfway point as a blistering 58.2-second pace was set.
The duo held off a hard-charging Stranger Things (driven by Brady Brown) by 2 3/4 lengths at the wire in a time of 1:59.3, again just shy of the track standard.
Schadel’s win in the Brooke Erin Yeager Memorial also clinched the DiSalvo for Neal, who didn’t have a horse in the final two races, while Johnston only had one.
That proved to be pivotal as Johnston and Aquinas powered their way to victory in the final race of the day and week — the Ticket Office Pace.
Aquinas crossed the line in a time of 2:00.4, just ahead of Schadel and Way To Close, giving Johnston his seventh win of the week.
The total purse for Wednesday’s card was $33,600, bringing the total for the week to $131,875.
NOTES: Schadel, last year’s DiSalvo winner, finished in third place with six wins. 13-time DiSalvo winner Hammer was fourth with three victories ... Steve Schoeffel and Joe Offutt are tied for second with most DiSalvos with five each ... A total of 12 different drivers won at least one race over the 4-day program ... Neal became the 12th different driver to win the DiSalvo Trophy since 1984.
Pennsylvania Sire Stakes
“Old Master” Pace
1. Sweet Tea Baby (Stephen White), 2:00.3. 2. Crew Sock Hanover (Mitchell York). 3. Your Mom N Em (Eric Neal). 4. Ideal Bubby (Shawn Johnston). 5. Bikini Tina (Brady Brown).
Gerald & Shirley Albert Memorial Pace
1. Dancin With Rose (Neal), 2:01.3. 2. Cup of Choice (Johnston). 3. Eliza Mae (Brown). 4. Check Hanover (Bryce Brocklehirst).
Buster’s Sports Bar Pace
1. Sure R Lookin Good (Neal), 2:01.0. 2. Queen Bee Hanover (Todd Schadel). 3. Magic Speech (Dave Brickell). 4. Tina’s Forty Fives (Brown).
Backstage Crew Pace
1. Marvalous Marg (Johnston), 2:03.0. 2. Marvalous Marley (Neal). 3. Fair Life (Branden Smith). 4. Rocknroll Survivor (Roger Hammer).
Butch Flanagan Memorial Pace
1. April Ava (Neal), 1:59.0. 2. Jukebox Hero (Hammer). 3. Shady Grey (Schadel). 4. Darling Dear (Brown).
3-year-old Colts & Geldings
Michael ‘Mikey’ Rowles Memorial Pace
1. Gran Torino (White), 2:04.2. 2. L Dees Hawkins (Neal). 3. Northbrook Ron (Johnston).
Brooke Erin Yeager Memorial Pace
1. Find No More (Schadel), 1:59.4. 2. App Hanover (Johnston). 3. Untested Hanover (Brown).
Chester D. Bailey Memorial Pace
1. Motive Hanover (Schadel), 1:59.3. 2. Stranger Things (Brown). 3. Elusive Bubble (Brocklehurst). 4. Ginger Tree George (Samuel Beegle). 5. Marvalous Sunset (Smith).
Ticket Office Pace
1. Aquinas (Johnston), 2:00.4. 2. Way to Close (Schadel). 3. Slickslidenaway (White). 4. Western Fantasy (Brown).