by James Platz
When trotting mare Shake It Mary hit the market last November, Micah Burkholder did not hesitate to add the then-4-year-old to his roster of racehorses. Trained by Sherif Cunmulaj for Burkholder’s Rushcreek Stables, the Dontyouforgetit—Marigot Express mare is in the midst of a four-race win streak at Miami Valley Raceway, the most recent triumph coming Friday (Feb. 12) in the latest round of the Howard Beissinger Memorial Medley. Shake It Mary and driver Dan Noble won by half a length over favored Compelling in a time of 1:57.
“Anytime you buy a racehorse, you don’t know how long they are going to race or if the purchase is going to be a good one. She’s been awesome. Obviously, my dream has always been to own a good trotter. So far, she’s done pretty well,” said Burkholder. “I’m not saying she’s as good a trotter as there is, but she’s been awesome so far.”
Prior to her sale, Shake It Mary raced out of the Kim Dailey barn, with Dailey and Paul Thiesing sharing ownership. Under Dailey’s guidance, the trotter collected 15 wins and accumulated earnings of just under $110,000. Burkholder’s interest in the mare, however, dated back to when she passed through the sale ring at the 2017 Blooded Horse Pre-Jug sale.
“I saw her sell as a yearling and I thought she was king of an interesting cross with the Cantab (Hall) on the top and Dream Vacation on the bottom side. Dream Vacation, you see that a lot on the dam’s side. Chapter Seven, he’s out of a Dream Vacation mare,” said Burkholder.
Since moving to the Cunmulaj barn in late November, Shake It Mary has rewarded her new connections with a string of top finishes. The mare closed out 2020 with five starts under the Rushcreek Stables banner, missing a check only once while registering a win, two runner-up performances and a third-place effort. After trotting third in her 2021 debut, Shake It Mary has reeled off four straight, including two wins in the Beissinger Medley. In the first round, the 5-year-old covered the five-eighths distance in 1:11 as the favorite, victorious by nearly two lengths. Over her last 10 starts, the mare has banked $40,664.
“The last couple of races she has raced on the front end, but she’s a good come-from-behind horse, which I say cheers to Kim and Bill and how they produce horses,” Burkholder said. “They raced her in the non-winners and schooled her as a racehorse and taught her how to be a racehorse. She can race on the front or she can race from behind.”
Burkholder, 31, does not have an extensive background in harness racing and admits that Shake It Mary is one of his better acquisitions to date. He has always enjoyed a love of horses, training his first pony as a first grader. His involvement included riding horses at first, but he has purchased standardbreds no longer fit for the racetrack and sold them in the Amish community as buggy horses. The first horse to race for his Rushsylvania-based Rushcreek Stables was the pacing mare Brian’s Magic Girl. Purchased in May of her 5-year-old season, she took her 1:54.2 mark at Scioto Downs that summer and earned over $30,000 in 2017 during a six-month span. That purchase turned out to be the springboard for Burkholder, who now pursues harness racing with a goal of eventually making it his full-time occupation.
“I’m obviously invested for the long haul. I enjoy the horses and I’ve always dreamed of being able to just focus on the horses,” he said. “To me, just because something is a dream, it doesn’t mean it happens right away. Maybe it doesn’t happen for another 10 or 15 years.”
Burkholder has other irons in the fire away from the racetrack. He owns a window and door business, which serves as his “day job,” and he spent 15 years in construction before that, working alongside his brother. Still, he already invested significantly in the racing and breeding industry. He owns all or part of 18 broodmares, with 12 yearlings from the band going to auction this fall. With another dozen horses in training, Burkholder is working a plan in hopes of making his dream a reality.
Now, Burkholder is enjoying the success of Shake It Mary, who be considered one of the favorites in the $25,000 Beissinger championship, to be contested at a distance of one and one-quarter miles. He has purchased horses in the past that never panned out on the track. When he acquired the mare, he did not know what the future held, but he knew he had a broodmare prospect. She has turned out to be much more.
“I purchased her, and my thought was that if she didn’t work to race, to me she crosses well with a Muscle Hill son. She crossed well to anything, really, with the Cantab and Dream Vacation,” he said. “It’s a game, and you play, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The horse business as a whole, I enjoy the people and I enjoy the whole process. The good ones like her are what keep your interest there. If you make a decision and it turns out to be a good one, those are the wins.”