"It's a great honour being respected by your peers. A lot of hard work is involved in this, a great staff behind us too, you know, it's not just me. We've got a good bunch of grooms and second trainers that help us along so it's a great accomplishment for us all."
Trainer Mark Etsell followed up his first million-dollar season in 2022 with yet another seven-figure season in 2023 and was named the winner of the O'Brien Award of Horsemanship at the 2023 O'Brien Awards on Saturday, Feb. 3 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Etsell, who was the runner-up for Trainer of the Year, earned 32 wins -- a personal best over the last three decades -- and achieved a sterling UTRS of 0.311 in 2023. He has been in the spotlight over the last couple of seasons primarily due to his millionaire trotting mare, Adare Castle, who captured divisional O’Brien Award honours as a sophomore in 2022 and as an older mare in 2023.
"We felt she deserveed another crack at it," said Etsell about racing Adare Castle as an older mare. "We rushed her a little bit back as a four-year-old. She didn't get a lot of time off because the Graduate Series started in April. So she didn't get a lot of down time. This year, she got a full three months off after the Breeders Crown. She bulked up, she filled out, she grew up. We're expecting nice things from her as a five-year-old."
Owned by Etsell, Robert Newton, Graham Hopkins and Peter Porter, the daughter of Muscle Mass-Pacific Edge started her aged career strong, sweeping all three preliminary legs of the Ontario Graduate Series as well as the final at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Other notable accomplishments included winning a leg of the Miss Versatility Series in a career-best 1:52 mile at Mohawk and winning the Preferred Trot against male rivals. Adare Castle bankrolled $201,300 with a seasonal summary of 6-3-2 from 20 starts.
Etsell also trained O’Brien two-year-old trotting colt finalist Willowtime, who went four-for-five earning $355,619 with highlights that included a Grand Circuit stakes win and a victory in the Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final.
The veteran horseman’s ability to develop young, bargain-priced trotters has been a focal point of his career and has especially been a strong accent of his over the last couple of years.
Etsell discussed his approach to training and decision to focus on trotters in addition to speaking about his stable stars in an interview with Standardbred Canada's John Rallis and Jeff Porchak. The post-O'Brien Awards interview, sponsored by Horse Racing Alberta, appears below.