Horse races continue to grow at county fair

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The Carlton County Fair had a banner year for horse races, with the glaring exception of an accident Sunday that put a 13-year-old Barnum girl in the hospital with serious injuries.

Grace Bartz had just finished her first-ever horse race, when a nearby horse startled, causing her horse to turn unexpectedly, her mother, Jill Bartz, told Fox 21 News. Bartz was thrown from the horse and landed on a fence, which cut a main artery under her arm.

Horse racing director Annette Palacios said a number of people reacted heroically to the accident. An unidentified young rider nearby jumped off her horse and got Bartz's foot out of the stirrup, where it was caught. Jack Wickstrom was the second person there and worked to stop the bleeding. Outrider Justin Olesiak — who took control of the horse — was also amazing, Palacios said.

So was the rest of the crew.

"The minute the EMS saw the injury, she had Moose Lake bring a doctor to the track and ordered (a Life Flight) helicopter," Palacios said, noting that there is always an ambulance at the track. "My crew was on top of it immediately."

Bartz was badly injured, however, and underwent a second surgery Tuesday on her arm. The Pine Journal was unable to learn her condition before presstime Wednesday.

Fair manager Allysha Sample said she thinks the accident is the worst in 126 years of horse racing at the fair, which is the only county fair to still offer horse races in Minnesota.

Palacios said a lot of new people are coming to Carlton County for the horse races. People came from North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and other towns in Minnesota.

"We're getting more and more exposure, and a lot of young people," she said. "That's what we're striving for, to keep horse racing alive in Carlton County."

She praised the infield crew and Chuck Hibke, who works on the track all summer.

They had nine races on Saturday and 12 races on Sunday. While a lot of the races feature horses that are "pulled off the pasture to race," the grand event is the Carlton County Derby, the final race on Sunday. It's a thoroughbred race, Palacios said.

Three of her nephews — brothers Jacob, Jordan and Justin Olesiak — all raced in the Derby. The youngest, Jacob, won after driving all night from Columbus, Neb., to get there. Jacob was riding a horse that came from Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.

"The boys were all raised on this," she said. "Their grandpa threw them on thoroughbred horses when they were just little."

Speaking of young racers, Palacios also had a great nephew, age 3, compete in the "lead pony" race, when parents take the kids on a horse or pony and a lead rope around the track.

"They're wearing helmets and glasses, of course," she said. "It's the cutest thing ever."

Sample didn't have final numbers for fair attendance on Wednesday, but she said Saturday was one of the best days ever, with paid attendance at 7,599. Including those with passes and exhibitors, judges, etc., Sample said total attendance was close to 10,000.

"It was crazy, it was awesome," she said. "People everywhere. I loved it."