The big question, when it comes to Joey Barabash, isn’t, ‘What does he do at Assiniboia Downs?’ It’s more accurate to ask, ‘What doesn’t he do at the Winnipeg racetrack?’
He is the thoroughbred version of a jack-of-all-trades, a multi-tasking horseman who has one great love for the sport he can’t get enough of.
“I have five roles at Assiniboia Downs,” said Barabash. “I’m the paddock identifier, paddock blacksmith, parade marshal, work on the morning starting gate, and also do backstretch maintenance.”
It was Derek Corbel, starter at the Winnipeg thoroughbred oval since 2000, as well as assistant director of racing, who was profiled in an earlier 2015 edition of Canadian Thoroughbred’s Faces at the Races feature, that opened the door for a job (note the singular) at the Manitoba oval.
For Barabash, it was simply an offer he couldn’t refuse. He’s certainly glad he accepted the opportunity that brought him into the thoroughbred world.
“It was thanks to Derek that I’m here,” he said. “I used to be an outrider for chariot racing on the weekends for fun. Derek told me there was an opening on the starting gates at Assiniboia Downs. I applied and got the position. The next year, I was a parade marshal as well. The rest is history.”
When that history started, however, isn’t quite crystal clear. No big deal, though.
“I think it’s been 13, maybe 14 years,” Barabash said with a laugh. “But who’s counting?”
While he’s unsure about the actual date his life at Assiniboia got out of the gates, Barabash, who hails from Winnipeg, isn’t overly concerned with recording milestones or celebrating anniversaries.
Instead, it’s the passion for horse racing, the camaraderie of the racetrack life and the beauty of the thoroughbred that fuels Barabash’s passion.
With so many hats to wear, every race day offers a unique lens in which he is able to view the Sport of Kings.
“I am always doing something different,” said Barabash. “Every job has its challenges and every one is so different from the other. No day is the same.”
And not every day is always easy.
“The toughest part is trying to have a life off of the racetrack,” he said. “It’s hard for non-racetrack people to understand what the job and hours are. I think any racetrack person, in any position, could relate.”
Despite the long hours, demanding job descriptions and dealing with the unexpected, there is one thing in particular that ensures Barabash wakes up smiling during the Assiniboia Downs’ thoroughbred meet.
“The horses,” he said. “I love the horses. They are truly amazing animals.”
Animals seen through the eyes of Manitoba’s master of multiple racing roles.