Mark Etsell will have a number of opportunities to make appearances on stage at the 2023 O’Brien Awards, and that’s not a surprise to Standardbred owner Peter Porter.
Porter, who has owned horses for nearly the last half century, speaks very highly of the conditioner who is up personally for Trainer of the Year and the O’Brien Award of Horsemanship while also the trainer of finalists Willowtime (Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt) and Adare Castle (Older Trotting Mare).
The winners of these awards will be revealed at the 2023 O’Brien Awards, taking place on Saturday, Feb. 3 at the Delta by Marriott Prince Edward in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Etsell and Porter were first introduced through horseman Terry Devos.
“I’ve known Terry a few years and I had been buying part of his horses,” Porter told Trot Insider. “He ended up suggesting we send our horses to Mark. It’s been nothing but positive of course. It’s not going to go on forever, I know that, but it’s amazing — with Mark has had to work with — how well it’s turned out.”
Porter said that Etsell is meticulous in his approach in the stable and respects him for his fairness and honesty.
“You have to give the guy so much respect because it’s like last year with Willowtime, they came to us and we could have gone into the million-dollar race. Mark said right off the bat, ‘Don’t forget,’ he said, ‘a few days after that race, we have to race again and we are not going to do both. The horse comes first. It’s got nothing to do with money, the horse comes first.’
“You have to respect the guy. Not only did he bring him on late in the year, he only raced him five times,” continued Porter. “Anybody else would have pushed him most likely. Six weeks or two months before and you know what could have happened. He’ll do what’s good for the horse.”
Porter co-owns both O’Brien finalists Willowtime and Adare Castle.
Willowtime had a stunning freshman campaign. With only five starts on the resume of the Lookslikeachpndale-SOS Respect colt, Willowtime amassed a whopping $355,619 with four wins and one third. His success flowed in the Ontario Sires Stakes, where he took his mark of 1:54.2, as well as in the $180,800 Champlain Stakes. Porter owns Willowtime with Devos and Etsell.
Adare Castle, who was an O’Brien Award winner at three, posted six wins, three seconds and two thirds in 20 starts in her four-year-old campaign. The daughter of Muscle Mass and the Andover Hall mare, Pacific Edge, earned $201,300 last season to total $1,355,991 in her career. Adare Castle has a career record of 20-9-2 in 42 starts, only ever missing the top five twice in her career. Her mark of 1:52 was taken on June 3 in the Miss Versatility Series leg at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Porter owns the mare in partnership with Etsell, Robert Newton and Graham Hopkins.
While a broodmare career is certainly in the cards for Adare Castle eventually, that time to produce off the track will have to wait as the connections will look for the trotting mare to produce on the racetrack in 2024 as a five-year-old.
“I know what [Mark] wants to do. He wants to go down to the Little Brown Jug again [for the Miss Versatility final] and if things work out, he wants to go back to the Breeders Crown and show them.”
Porter’s own harness racing background extends back 45 years into connections with horses and horsemen the likes of John Bax and Hall of Famer Carl Jamieson, both O’Brien Award winners both personally and with equine talent.
“There’s a guy in Port Dover here, Tony Schneider — who owned the Erie Beach Hotel, and he kind of got us interested. I got into it for maybe a few years and didn’t have very good luck,” explained Porter. “We had a sawmill and Carl Jamieson came to get sawdust at our place and one day, he said to me, ‘Dr. [Bob] Boyce has got too many horses, he wants to sell part of one. Do you want to buy it?’ I said, ‘Sure. What does he want for it?’ He said $8,000. I said that’s fine, that is good to me. Anyway, the horse turned to be Cupcakesnwhipcream. That was the first real positive experience.”
Cupcakesnwhipcream proved to be a sweet investment for Porter. The daughter of Camluck finished in the top two in 13 of 16 freshman starts (9-4-0) and banked more than $350,000 in that two-year-old season. That season landed Porter with his first O’Brien Award in 2000, landing another last year with Adare Castle. Twenty-two years between accolades and galas, the experience maintained its magnitude.
Porter won an O’Brien Award in 2000 with Cupcakesnwhipcream, a winner of the division for two-year-old pacing fillies.
“I’m looking at that O’Brien Award [from Cupcakesnwhipcream] now actually,” Porter added. “[The gala] was just as good as it is now. It’s a first class situation.”