Horse racing, Carlton County Fair go hand in handThere has been horse racing at the Carlton County Fair since 1892. The first Carlton County Fair was held in 1891 in a store building in Carlton. The next year, Barnum supporters won the debate and the venue moved to a 29-acre tract of land from Northern Pacific Railroad. Since that time, every other county fair in Minnesota that has offered horse racing has dropped it.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
There has been horse racing at the Carlton County Fair since 1892.
The first Carlton County Fair was held in 1891 in a store building in Carlton. The next year, Barnum supporters won the debate and the venue moved to a 29-acre tract of land from Northern Pacific Railroad.
Since that time, every other county fair in Minnesota that has offered horse racing has dropped it.
As the upcoming 120th Annual Carlton County Fair approaches, one of its mainstays has been the fairgrounds’ half-mile horse track. The ground has hosted races for every year of the fair’s existence except its first.
This year, the annual races are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21, beginning at 1 p.m. both days.
Once again this year, the races will feature just about every type of horse with a jockey who wants to take part in the event.
“We’ll have races with thoroughbreds, ponies, saddle horses, farmer’s horses, everything there is to run,” race organizer Laddie Litfin Sr. said. “It goes over two days but the big day is Sunday.”
That’s the day of the Carlton County Derby, which will run two full laps around the track for a mile-long race.
For Litfin, the Carlton County Fair is a labor of love that allows him to indulge his lifelong passion for horses.
He’s been involved with horses and horse racing for 60 years. He’d have done it for longer, but Liftin’s only 66 years old.
“I started riding horses there (at the fair) when I was 6 years old,” Litfin said. “I jockeyed in the races until I was 21 years old and I got too big. Then for a couple years I was out of town on business but basically, I’ve been to the fair since the day I was born.”
So, it’s only natural that a fair veteran like Litfin should help organize the races. He’s assisting his son, Laddie Litfin Jr., who works for the Department of Homeland Security and can’t always help with the work.
“The Carlton County Fair is everything,” Litfin said. “It’s a county thing. We have the horses, we have the cars, we have the cattle. There is something for everyone.”
Then he pauses.
“But for those of us that are horse people, it’s especially nice for us,” he added.
One of the best things about the races is that virtually all the horses and riders are local.
“Just about all the ponies, saddle horses and quarterhorses are local,” Litfin said. “They come from Cloquet, Moose Lake, Pine County, St. Louis County and Carlton County for the most part. We do have some horses from Minneapolis and a few from Hibbing sometimes but mostly everyone’s from around here.”
That includes the jockeys, for the most part.
One of the locals coming home to race at the fair is Jacob Olesiak of rural Cloquet.
This summer, Jacob and his brother Jordan are spending the summer racing horses at a track in Columbus, Neb. There, the brothers are dominating the local circuit.
“The first meet we had there, I was the top rider and Jordan was second,” Olesiak said. “The second meet, he was first and I was third. We’ve been first or second just about all year long.”
Yet, home is where Olesiak’s heart lies. He’ll arrive for Sunday’s derby and hopes to race Saturday as well.
“It means everything to me,” Olesiak said about racing at the fair. “I’ve been there every year of my life. I never miss it. I grew up racing horses and that place (the fairgrounds) is special.”
One of Olesiak’s earliest horse memories surrounds the fair.
“One year my great-grandpa Wilson was watching me ride a pony named Sparky,” he said. “I loved the horse and he just told me ‘If you want him, let me know and I’ll buy him for you.’ He did. I still have the horse and he still races at the fair every year.”
“(Sparky) never does very well, but he still runs,” Olesiak added with a smile. “Horses have the biggest hearts you can imagine. They try so hard.”
The races are run with a wide variety of horses.
“Ponies, saddle horses, farmer’s horses – we run everything there is to run,” Litfin said.
It’s all part of a grand
“We’re proud that we are the only fair still doing it (horse racing),” Litfin said. “People still want to initiate their horses into racing and run them, and we’re proud of the fair board to let us have the opportunity to do this.”
Litfin said the board has always been supportive of the
“I once heard a board member say that not everyone is there for horse racing, and not everyone is there for car racing or the displays. He said people want to see everything and this fair has it.”
“A lot of county fairs don’t even have cattle anymore,” Litfin said. “To me, this is the most complete fair in the state.”
And to top it off, the annual horse races will take center stage at the weekend.
Litfin said two or three thoroughbred races, a small pony race, a farmer’s horse race and a quarterhorse race are tentatively scheduled for Saturday, with the races repeated on Sunday with the addition of the Carlton County Derby.
“Most of the races are half-mile and three-quarter mile races,” Litfin said. “The exception is the Derby, which is a full mile.”
None of that matters to Olesiak, who is used to running races as long as 1-3/8 miles. What matters to him is coming home.
“It sure is nice to win, for bragging rights, but it’s nicer to be there with my family. I like coming up, seeing my family and racing,” he said.
In fact, Olesiak can’t imagine a summer without horse racing at the fair.
“It’s my life,” he said. “It’s what I want to do. I love it more than anything, it’s what I do every day, and the fair is a big part of that.”
If you go
The annual Carlton County Fair “Horse Races in the Grandstand” will be held Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21. Racing begins at 1:30 each day.
Admission to the track is $7 for adults and $3 for children under the age of 12.
These rates are in addition to the fair entry fees, which are $5 for adults and $2 for children under 12.
Total cost for racing is, therefore, $12 for adults and $5 for children under the age of 12.