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A Memory To Last A Lifetime

Published: August 16, 2019 7:26 pm ET

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The Gold Cup & Saucer is one of Canada's most entertaining harness racing events and coveted races. But for one American horseman, the Gold Cup & Saucer means checking off an unfulfilled bucket list wish of his departed father while creating a lifetime and lasting memory for his remaining family.

Ron Cushing is a familiar name for those in New England, but he made his first appearance in Canada in 15 years with a pair of Gold Cup & Saucer contenders in this year's trials. Both Bettors Fire N and Rock Diamonds N will line up just before midnight on Saturday night as part of the eight-horse field in the 60th edition of the Gold Cup & Saucer, and he couldn't be more thrilled. Because for Cushing, being on Prince Edward Island for Old Home Week is about more than just a stakes race.


Bettors Fire N

"I needed to get them raced and they're all quality horses," Cushing told Trot Insider. "At Plainridge they're a little above board, and they're sharp, so I needed to find places to race them. I knew if I came here, for one thing, I'd be able to get two of them raced twice in a month and that would be a good thing.

"But actually the reason...I've had some nice horses on and off since about 2007 that could have come here but it would be like one [horse] and to plan a whole week away with one horse and say maybe he draws the eight hole...it's a bit of a reach," the Maine native continued. "What prompted it was that I lost my dad (Rick Cushing) about eight years ago December. My dad was good friends with Steve Mahar, the Fitzgerald family and a lot of horsemen from New Brunswick that came down and raced at Bangor in the summer. My dad taught school and he'd stable there for the summer and meet everybody, and they became really as good of friends as anybody he grew up with.

"My ex-wife still stays close with my mom and comes up for vacations and so on, in one of their talks about things you miss, was that my dad always wanted to come to the Gold Cup & Saucer. Not to race, but to be a fan and enjoy the sport and live the stories that all the Maritimers told him. I was the same way, as I used to drive for Mike MacDonald at Rockingham Park and was good friends with him and you hear all the stories."

Cushing found out a few months ago that his ex-wife actually tried to help his mom with that memory and brought her to P.E.I. One problem: they made the trip in July, so there was no Old Home Week celebration.

Thinking about the opportunity and siding with the carpe diem side of the equation, Cushing felt the timing was right to take a pair of horses across the border and finally experience Old Home Week with his family.

"I'm 54, I'm healthy and I'm doing my thing but my dad was too. And my son Mitchell's doing a great job at Plainridge and The Meadowlands and wherever he's been. I said 'you know what, if I go up there and I can get these two in the final, my Mom can come up, and I can build a memory...win or not, obviously that's your main goal. But it's really just to see what it's all about.

"My goal coming into this past weekend was to get two in the final, have me and my kid under the spotlight and my 75-year-old mother, who's still in great shape, at least live part of a memory for her and my dad."


Rock Diamonds N

Cushing qualified both Bettors Fire N and Rock Diamonds N for fiancee-trainer Heidi Gibbs and co-owners Kevin Sywyk of Swartz Creek, Michigan and Frank Ranaldi of St. James, Australia. Cushing goes back with both owners for more than 20 years, and has been buying horses from downunder that entire time. Ranaldi has owned Bettors Fire since his three-year-old season, and he came to North American off a stellar career in the Southern Hemisphere where he raced against horses the likes of Lazarus and won two Banbury Cups, a heat of the Inter Dominion in 2016 and the Village Kid Sprint in 2017. With opportunities diminishing downunder, a deal was reached to bring him stateside.

Cushing gushes when discussing the 11-year-old iron horse, who he'll steer from post two on Saturday after finishing third in his trial from post eight last Saturday.

"I'm a Patriots fan and to me he's like the Tom Brady of the harness racing world, like a Foiled Again. He's no comparison to Foiled, but to be at that level at that age, against more talented horses or faster horses, he shows up. He's the Tom Brady of my world. He's classy."

Cushing feels Bettors Fire N, who boasts open and stakes wins at Yonkers, Plainridge, Scarborough Downs and Bangor, can remain competitive at this level with the proper management of a horse that's reaching the twilight of his career and racing against rivals half his age.

"With me, I'll be able to keep him at this level -- I hope -- for another year, year and a half, and still be an open horse when he's 13 or 14...I hope.

Stablemate Rock Diamonds N finished a solid second for Cushing in his trial on Monday, meaning Ron's son Mitchell Cushing will make his Island debut and drive Rock Diamonds.

"I decided pretty much the day I bought Bettors Fire....I don't know when I'm going to retire, but I'll probably sit behind him every start of his life. He's a special horse."

Cushing couldn't be more pleased with how the downunder-bred duo comes into Saturday night's main event.

"[Bettors Fire N] came out of the trial very well, I love his attitude. [Rock Diamonds N] came out of it well too, so I think going into the race I couldn't be more satisfied with them.

"I think the air up here agrees with all the horses; it's clear, the wind's blowing, and there's less allergies. Horses like Bettors Fire flourish off clear, crisp air."

The air on Prince Edward Island isn't just agreeing with the horses. Cushing gave a glowing report to the Island for its hospitality during his Old Home Week stay.

"I'm staying at Donnie MacKay's farm, just the other side of Orwell, really nice place, wonderful people. All the good things you hear...I've had people from grooms to people at the hotel, Adam Walsh at the track, anybody's just 'thank you for bringing these nice horses and thanks for coming to Old Home Week. How do you like it so far? Are you having fun?' I've never seen a more courteous environment.

"It's been a great week and the hospitality couldn't be better, from the people we've spent time with and had a few drinks with...it's just been that good."

While Cushing admits he would understand why people might give an American invader the cold shoulder, he gives credit to those he's encountered for understanding the amount of work that goes into making such a commitment to this race.

"I know that's probably why [people in PEI] appreciate it because a lot of people say they want to come, a lot of people say they will come but I think most of them treat it as a race," stated Cushing. "So I think that's another part of the appreciation factor you get from management and the locals is they realize for me to do this, even if I win the darn thing and have a good time, it's still a commitment to do it and they look at it as we're doing it for them.

"Until you experience it you really don't believe it's true; I can see why it means so much to people."

The importance of, not just the race, but making the race better, is most definitely not lost on him.

"I didn't want to take two spots if they weren't competitive when somebody might have came that would be, because I think the better the competition is for the sport -- because that's why we're putting on this show -- the more the people appreciate it. That's likely why people like Travis [Cullen] bought horses within two weeks of this race, to have a horse to bring.

"I'm 54 and I feel great. My dad was super when he was 54, then he found out he had leukemia. He had myeloid leukemia, went for a bone marrow transplant because he wanted to make it, thought he had a shot and had a reaction to the transplant and it didn't work, and that's just something he never got to do."

And now, the week that means something to so many Atlantic Canadians means something to Cushing. It means that he's created something that his family can't hold onto but they will never let go of.

"To be able to cement something to my mom, that would be great but, if something happens to me or God help us something happen to Mitchell, at least there's going to be an event where he and I are under the spotlight on the same night. That was kind of my goal, and I got that goal. So we're going to feel what it's like to experience what all these guys talk about. The ultimate goal is to stand in that winner's circle."

60th Guardian Gold Cup & Saucer
PP-Horse Name-Driver-Trainer
1. Sir Pugsley - Jason Hughes - Patrick Shepherd
2. Bettors Fire N - Ron Cushing - Heidi Gibbs
3. Bet On Brett - Louis-Philippe Roy - Rene Allard
4. Somewhere Fancy - Simon Allard - Rene Allard
5. Lisburn - Ken Arsenault - Robert Cleary
6. Rock Diamonds N - Mitchell Cushing - Heidi Gibbs
7. Midway Island - Travis Cullen - Rachel Andrew
8. National Debt - Gilles Barrieau - Jackie Matheson

To view the entries for Saturday night's Gold Cup & Saucer card, click the following link: Saturday Entries - Charlottetown Driving Park.


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