Nineteen-year-old Carlee Evans always has time for harness racing

by Chris Lomon

Time is often at a premium for Carlee Evans, but her unabashed love for horses and horse racing is never in short supply.

It is by no means a stretch to say that the horsewoman who hails from Leslie, MI, works twice as hard to ensure the horses under her watchful eye are well taken care of.

Evans, whose mother, Sarena Massey-Evans, trained horses up until 2022, and whose aunt, Staci Massey-Malady, is a longtime conditioner, is in near-perpetual motion whenever she heads to the stables each morning.

And that suits her just fine.

“I was paddocking for my mom a lot,” Evans said. “And now, these days, I paddock for my Aunt Staci — and do stalls there — so any time she needs me to go to the track, I will. I also work for trainer David Lake. I help at his barn, paddock horses, and do whatever I can to help him as well.”

Some days, not surprisingly, can be a whirlwind for Evans.

But working closely with pacers and trotters is, admittedly, a dream role for the 19-year-old.

A life in horse racing was perhaps inevitable.

“I got involved in racing through my mom, my grandfather, Gary Massey, and my aunt,” Evans said. “I suppose you could say I was born into it.

“I’m guessing I have had that interest in horses since I was 5. My aunt has a warm room in her barn, so me and my cousin, Peyton, would sit in there when we were little. We would just hang out at the barn, and it was great.”

Racing is still very much the thrill ride Evans was introduced to as a kid.

Her contributions to racing in Michigan have not gone unnoticed.

Evans and Katie Toska were named the 2022 Caretakers of the Year by the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association.

The press release announcing the awards said: “These two young ladies dedicate all of their time to the care and training of their own standardbreds, as well as those of their families and other trainers when needed.”

“It meant a lot,” said Evans of the honor. “There are so many fantastic caretakers in Michigan, so to be one of the people that was recognized is very special. I do work hard, and I try to paddock them the best I can. I love the horses and I do my best to take care of them.”

Horses under her care are given love, and plenty of latitude.

“I’m overly friendly with them,” Evans said. “I let them get away with everything; they get to do what they want. I love to spoil them.”

Acting Captain, a now-retired 14-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere—Keystone Trinidad, is still very much living the pampered life, courtesy of Evans.

Over 296 career races, the bay gelding won 39 races and bankrolled $172,735 for his connections.

“We have had him for about nine or 10 years, and he is like my little child,” Evans said. “I take him everywhere with me. Now he is at David’s because I’m working there. Anywhere I am, he is there too.

“The two of us instantly bonded. When he came to the barn for the first time, I just fell in love with him. He is very sweet and he’s also a tough racehorse. He was an open horse at Northville at one point and he gave everything he had. I love him.”

Evans wears her heart on her sleeve when it comes to Acting Captain.

“I have a tattoo of his freeze brand on my arm,” she said. “What can I say? He just stole my heart.”

Evans’ busy racing life might soon see an addition to her daily duties.

The idea of becoming an owner again is becoming a more frequent thought.

“I would like to get back into the racing part,” she said. “I retired Captain after he had an accident at one of the fairs, so I am looking to get another horse to race. I sold two that I had before, but I love the racing part a lot, so I want to do that again.”

For now, she will have to live vicariously through her aunt and Lake.

“It gets me so excited when I watch them race,” Evans said. “Taking care of them all week, watching them go out on the track, and seeing them perform well is such a rewarding feeling.”

Interests and personal pursuits outside of racing have taken a backseat to the racing world for Evans, who is in college, studying to become an ultrasound technician.

It isn’t, however, a negative in her eyes.

Any moment that she can watch a horse she looks after line up behind the starter car is a welcome one.

“There isn’t too much that I do outside of horse racing, to be honest,” she said. “I am always in the barn, but I am happy there. I guess you could say that racing is my hobby. This isn’t a job to me; it is truly something I love to do. If I didn’t have horses in my life, I don’t know what I would really do. I have such a strong bond with the horses I work with.”

It is something she is happily reminded of whenever she walks into the two, familiar barns each morning.

Evans, who continues to successfully navigate a busy life in the classroom and in racing, knows precisely what to expect when she takes her first step inside.

“When I see [the horse] for the first time in the morning, they all whinny at me — Captain really whinnies at me because he wants to have my attention — and that is a great feeling to have. To see how happy they are is what makes me happy too.”

It is why a life in racing has never been one of tedium or regret for Evans.

“What I do is never boring for me,” she said. “Working at two stables, it can be crazy, but it is always interesting.”