OTTB convert wins barrel race wearing a sling

Sassy and her new owner/rider win the first Extreme Retired Racehorse Makeover Barrel Race

Sassy and her new owner/rider win the first Extreme Retired Racehorse Makeover Barrel Race

A 21-year-old Pennsylvania woman, while bracing against the ache of a separated collarbone, rode Thoroughbred ex-racehorse Bayside Sassy to victory this month in the First Annual Extreme Retired Racehorse Makeover Barrel Race.

Despite warnings from doctors who said the slightest bump could cause her bone to pierce through her flesh, Lacey Tomasik refused to back out of a competition that pitted horse trainers like herself, and off-track Thoroughbred partners, against one another in a unique demonstration of a Western discipline traditionally populated by Quarter Horses.

After conquering her own doubts about Thoroughbreds competing in the traditional Quarter Horse sport, and working a grueling 100-day retraining effort to get Sassy prepped for the Aug. 2 competition, Tomasik simply refused to back out.

“I told (event organizers) there was no way I wasn’t going,” she says. “If I was going to come in last, I didn’t care if I went and trotted in a circle first, I was going to earn it.”

So, after carefully wrapping her shoulder in a sling Tomasik rode Bayside Sassy in a two-phase competition that tested her strength, her bravery, and her belief in a breed she admits she didn’t have much faith in.

“When I was selected to participate as a trainer in this event, I was really skeptical,” she says. “I was never a huge fan of OTTBs. I’d always heard bad things about them; that there legs aren’t good, and they weren’t good-minded animals.”

Race name: Bayside Sassy
New name: Sassy
Sire: Sligo Bay
Dam: Silly Sally
Foal date: Feb. 2, 2006
Tomasik, wearing a flowing costume, rode the obliging ex-racehorse in a very basic freestyle exercise, a kind of horse equivalent of the slow-dance, and set to the music of a Joe Nichols tune, aptly titled, The Impossible.

As they sauntered into the ring, the show announcer read a brief poem Tomasik had penned to tie their Freestyle to the song. It stated: “After my racing career, many think I’m crazy—loco—and impossible to retrain. But today I’m gong to show you that the impossible is possible.”

And so they did prove it was possible.

First, they eased themselves through a “basic” Freestyle of five maneuvers, demonstrating side-passing, use of a tarp, backing up, lead changing and leg yielding.

Sassy proved gentle and obedient through the entire five-minute demonstration.

When they were done, the pair drew the No. 1 position in the barrel race that followed. And Sassy was all over that like she was born to “hunt barrels.”

“She tried her heart out for me,” Tomasik says. “She still has a few things to learn about barrels, like, she doesn’t slow up before the barrel. But, that’s hard to teach in the short amount of time we had together. But what surprised me is that she really likes to sit down and turn. She loves to hunt the barrel!”

Sassy gets a kiss from her newest fan

Sassy gets a kiss from her newest fan

They had the fastest time, at 17.4, and this, combined with their Freestyle score, put them in the lead against 10 other competitors.

The event was organized by JackieSean Harris, a longtime barrel racer who founded nonprofit organization Dreaming of Three to help elevate the profile of ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds in the Quarter Horse dominated discipline. Like Tomasik, Harris never imagined a Thoroughbred could be a barrel racer, as she recalled in an earlier interview with

After partnering with CANTER Ohio representative Jenn Ruberto to create the barrel race competition, Harris gained a deep respect and admiration for Thoroughbreds, she says in the earlier interview.

And that feeling rubbed off on Tomasik, who decided to sell her competition Quarter Horse so she could keep Sassy.

“Jen Ruberto called me after our win and told me I could keep Sassy. I told her I couldn’t keep two horses, so I sold my Quarter Horse,” she says. “Now I have a big, Thoroughbred mare, the type of horse I swore I’d never have, and I think we have a really good chance of going pro in the barrels.”

Whether that goal is met or not, Tomasik is now a true believer when it comes to off-track Thoroughbreds!

“She was so pleasant and eager to please when we worked together,” she says. “She’s a total sweetheart, and so gentle. I feel very lucky to have her.”

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7 responses to “OTTB convert wins barrel race wearing a sling”

  1. Veronica

    Lacey is a hardworking beautiful young lady with tons of enthusiasm to train horses . She performed miracles with this horse and gives hope to other ex-race horses to have a wonderful future . Lacey is the person to train yours .

  2. Jackie Harris

    There are certainly owners in every discipline that don’t take good care of their horses and horses that have to go to pasture because of the abuse of certain owners and certain disciplines.

  3. Cindy

    Great job!

  4. GASafeHorses

    I’ve had 2 rehabbed barrel racers; people ruin these fine horses for the sake of another dollar. First one took a year to rehab; second never recovered from the abuse of barrel racing. I had to let him go to pasture. Both were quarter horses. Now my OTTB’s are quick learners and make great pleasure horses. I’ll pass on barrel racing…too crazy for me!

  5. Holly

    Knew someone that actually took her dad’s OTTB (he was a trainer at a local TB racetrack) and literally won everything on that little OTTB mare of hers. Even paid off her mortgage with all the winnings.

    Great article 🙂

  6. Tara

    LOVE reading about the versatility of OTTB’s. My 4 yr old OTTB and I are also now just starting to ‘hunt barrels’ and he LOVES it to! Learned the pattern after only a few passes. I also have started him over low jumps, which he loves to. I don’t get why people think they can’t barrel race? They were built for speed and are highly intelligent. Kudo’s to this awesome team!

  7. mherlMary Herl

    Lacey—What a great article. Congratulations on all your hard work! Love ya, Mary

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