Day At The Track

Cushing pushes to keep career on fast track

08:59 AM 25 Jan 2019 NZDT
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Mitchell Cushing, harness racing
Mitchell Cushing
Tom Melanson photo

Mitchell Cushing is the first to admit that patience is not his strong suit. Cushing, who turned 21 on Jan. 12, is coming off a year that saw him finish second in the harness racing driver standings at two New England racetracks on his way to 247 wins and $1.51 million in purses, both personal bests in his fledgling career.

He drove the legendary Foiled Again to victory in a Farewell Tour race at the Windsor Fair in Maine, captured a Massachusetts Sire Stakes title with I'm A Clown, and finished second to Dan Patch Award-winner Shartin N with Apple Bottom Jeans in the TVG Series championship for female pacers.

And he is anxious for more.

"Everything has progressed quickly and I wouldn't want it any other way," said Cushing, adding with a laugh, "The way I am, if it can happen tomorrow I'd rather have it happen yesterday.

"I'm pushing it to happen as fast as it can. I know there are so many things along the road to get there, but I absolutely love what I do and I'm going to push to be the best I can be."

Cushing, the son of driver Ron Cushing, began driving in 2014. In his first four years he won 141 races, a total he exceeded by 106 in 2018. He finished second in the driver standings to Drew Campbell, who is approaching 5,000-career wins, at both Plainridge Park and Scarborough Downs last year.

"I had some quality opportunities," Cushing said, referencing regular drives for Plainridge leading trainer Jimmy Nickerson as well as for Apple Bottom Jeans and I'm A Clown conditioner Kevin Switzer. "That helps. That makes it nice. I'm extremely thankful people have given me so many good opportunities."

With racing in New England on hiatus for the winter, Cushing has spent January competing at Freehold Raceway and the Meadowlands Racetrack, both in New Jersey. Cushing has five drives at the Big M on Friday and is listed on another five for Saturday. He has a total of three drives over the weekend at Freehold.

"It keeps me busy and I'm doing what I love," said Cushing, who lives in Maine. "I wouldn't want to do it any other way. I'm happy."

Cushing has won 10 of 147 races at the Meadowlands during his career. He enjoyed his two best weekends last October, when the Breeders Crown was at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Cushing won 4 of 23 drives at the Big M during that span.

"When I take a look back at it and take a deep breath, it couldn't be going any better," Cushing said. "I'm extremely thankful for the way it's going. If you would ask me on a day when I wasn't being appreciative and wanting to win races, I wish it was going the same as it was in October while everybody was at the Breeders Crown. But that's not realistic.

"It's hard for me to accept that because I'm so competitive and when I get an opportunity I don't want to waste it. It's a good thing to be competitive, but sometimes you have to take a deep breath and work hard and let stuff happen. These last couple weeks, with the time I've put in, I'm getting more quality drives. I'm running from Freehold to get to qualifiers (at the Meadowlands) and stuff is starting to go my way a little more. That's kind of nice. It's starting to get to the point where people think they can use me to begin with, not just when someone picks off."

Cushing grew up around harness racing and always enjoyed the sport and horses. But it wasn't until he suffered a knee injury his junior year of high school that focusing on it as a career became a passion. Cushing tore his ACL and during his recovery was unable to do much in the way of physical activity. He could, though, jog horses.

"I always loved it, but that's when it changed," Cushing said. "Even before I was out of high school I was pushing hard to progress."

Cushing has seen his career and abilities progress, especially in terms of getting along with horses.

"Getting behind a horse and getting a quick and solid understanding of a horse, I think that's what developed the most," Cushing said. "As a catch driver, that's what your job is. You've got to be able to get on and get along with a horse the best you can for two minutes. As last year went on, I think that was my biggest growth.

"And learning the races better, understanding races better, your decision-making gets quicker. People know about you statistically, but sometimes people wait for you to do the wrong thing and think maybe you're not ready. When you do things the wrong way, or you do things the right way, it changes opinions. I'm just going to keep trying to do things the right way and hopefully people think I deserve (an opportunity)."

Cushing will continue racing at the Meadowlands and Freehold until Plainridge reopens in April. At that point, he hopes to have accomplished enough at the Meadowlands to continue getting drives on the weekends.

"I don't expect to be there on a stakes night, but on a regular night throughout the year, that would be a huge personal accomplishment," Cushing said. "I hope I can just keep doing what I'm doing. It will get to a new level."

And that would be worth waiting for.

Ken Weingartner

 

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