Harness racing driver
When the race for the $10,000 prize at the Fryeburg Fair began three years ago, harness race driver Sherry Cushing didn’t think her horse, Four Starz Trump, had much of a chance.
“He’s a decent horse,” she recalled, as she prepared to drive Four Starz Trump in a race in Presque Isle recently. “But I didn’t think he could do any better than third.”
Coming around the final turn at Fryeburg, Cushing’s prediction seemed apt. They were boxed in, with nowhere to go, and the race seemed lost. Cushing decided to slow down, get herself “out of the hole” and try to overtake the leaders. To say her horse responded would be an understatement. He won the race, the winner’s share of the purse, and provided Cushing with one of her most exciting finishes.
“He came flying out of the turn,” said Cushing. “He beat the best.”
Cushing, 40, of Farmington, has had her share of excitement in 17 years of harness racing. According to her husband Michael, who also races, her driving average (times she has finished in the top 3) is .325, which puts her among the top drivers, male or female. Her most recent win was on July 8, when Four Starz Trump took the eighth race at Scarborough Downs.
“It’s like a batting average in baseball,” she said.
Cushing has been considered the leading female harness racing driver in North America and Canada for the last couple of years, but it’s more than her “batting average” that has earned her the respect of her mostly male peers. Sitting in that tiny driver’s seat, pitched slightly backward as your horse trots along at a 2-minute-mile pace, takes a lot of confidence.
Cushing has always had a way with horses – as a driver and a trainer – that people notice. Before she began driving, she worked as a “marshal,” the person who leads a horse to the gate before the race begins. The marshal also must round up a loose horse if there’s an incident on the track that disrupts a race.
“I could catch any horse that got loose,” she says. “I had no fear.”
Cushing grew up in Queens, N.Y., but moved upstate, near Monticello Raceway, where she got her start marshalling. She also got her driver’s and trainer’s licenses during those years – and she also met her husband, Michael Cushing, one of a long line of Cushing harness race drivers from Maine, while she was working as a marshal there.
Michael and Sherry own a few horses, but also train and drive others’ horses. Racing in Maine gets crazy busy during the fair season, which will end with Fryeburg, the final fair, in October. Cushing somehow has found time to pursue a nursing degree. Still, she can’t imagine her life without harness racing.
“I’ve been around horses since I was 7,” she says. “I’m not planning on giving up what I do. I love it.”