Horse racing icons lead charge at O’Brien Awards

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Horse racing enthusiasts and industry aficionados converged at the Delta Hotel in Charlottetown, PEI on Feb. 3 for the highly anticipated 35th annual O’Brien Awards. 

The evening celebrated the achievements of equine athletes, trainers and industry professionals who left an indelible mark on Canadian horse racing in 2023. 

Among the honorees this year were Dr. Ian Moore and Mark Etsell, whose contributions to the sport were hailed with resounding applause. 

Moore, the recipient of the 2023 Trainer of the Year award, posted a career high with earnings of $3,101,539.

Moore shared insights into his journey as a trainer, reflecting on his long-standing affiliation with the Shamrock Training Centre in Cambridge. 

While Moore clarified he does not own Shamrock, he emphasized the symbiotic relationship between his stables and the training centre, which has been his base of operations for over a decade. 

“We’ve been stabled at Shamrock for the last 14 years,” said Moore, underscoring the role of the facility in nurturing equine talent and fostering success.

Moore has been working with horses most of his life and has spent winters with his wife in Florida since 2009, breaking and training young horses before bringing them back to stable at Shamrock each spring. 

Reflecting on his surprise at winning the Trainer of the Year award, Moore expressed profound humility, attributing his success to the collective efforts of his team and the steadfast support of owners and partners. 

“I was very humbled and very honoured to receive the award. Especially because we’ve never had a large stable like some people do. We typically have 15 to 20 horses a year,” Moore commented. 

Originally from Summerside, PEI, Moore did not come from a family with horse racing experience. 

“I must have been in junior high, around 14, when the janitor of the school took me to a local track, and it just sort of went from there,” he said.

“I paid my way through school at the University of Guelph with horses – we always had one to three horses stabled out by the Mustang Drive-in Theatre,” which is located in Guelph/Eramosa, just outside Guelph.

He eventually became a veterinarian and worked at Irish Creek Equine Clinic from 2010 to around 2020. 

He would work afternoons as a vet and spent evenings horse racing at smaller tracks in Elmira, Orangeville and Flamborough.

Moore reminisced about his longstanding friendship with fellow trainer Mark Etsell, the recipient of the 2023 O’Brien Award of Horsemanship, which recognizes the Standardbred participant who best exemplifies the standard of horsemanship.

Dr. Ian Moore and his wife Nancy at the Delta Hotel.

Recounting their shared experiences racing in Hanover and Orangeville, Moore commended Etsell’s exemplary track record and dedication to the sport. 

“He’s a very deserving winner as well,” Moore said, underscoring the camaraderie within racing circles.

Etsell, who was the runner-up for Trainer of the Year, has been in the spotlight over the last few seasons primarily due to his millionaire trotting mare, Adare Castle, which captured divisional O’Brien Award honours as a sophomore in 2022 and as an older trotting mare in 2023. 

Based in Erin, Etsell operates out of the Ideal Training Centre.

Etsell reflected on the significance of the Award of Horsemanship, emphasizing the importance of knowledge, dedication and a profound love for the horses. 

This was his second nomination for the award, after losing out to trainer Luc Blais in 2021.

“It’s a big honour to be recognized by your peers. I’ve been doing this a lot of years and produced winners over the years but it’s nice to get recognized,” he said. 

Etsell’s approach to training horses is part of what sets him apart from others in the industry. 

“I treat all the horses as individuals and train them accordingly. I don’t train to any set regime,” he said. 

“Some horses will have different dietary needs for example, and I try to tailor to each individual horse.”

With a career characterized by resilience and perseverance, Etsell’s dedication to producing winners on a budget has earned him widespread acclaim within the industry.

“We’ve developed some nice racehorses this year and hopefully we’ll have the option of a couple horses winning O’Briens next year,” he said.

“To see the progress of a horse really gives personal satisfaction. It’s like watching your kids grow up. My horses are my family and I’m sure my family thinks I spend too much time with them.”

When asked what advice he would give to aspiring horse trainers, Etsell said, “You have to love the game. It’s a sport that you have to be very passionate about. 

“The problem now is, for young people to get in, it’s very expensive.

“I hate to say that, but the reality is expenses are insane compared to what the purses are that we race for.”

Moore echoed that sentiment, saying, “It’s a difficult business and it’s perhaps become even more difficult. 

“There were more opportunities when I was younger than there are now, but there are still plenty of opportunities. You need to work hard and start at the bottom. 

“I mucked stalls probably for two years before I was ever allowed to jog my first horse.”

Moore suggests, “Learn the business, spend a lot of time and commitment with it and persevere through tougher times, and you’ll end up being successful. 

“I’ve made a career and a lifestyle out of being an equine veterinarian for over 40 years and as a trainer, and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it.”

Officials say Moore and Etsell epitomize the spirit of the O’Brien Awards, which celebrate the very best in Canadian horse racing.

Advertorial Writer