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May 16, 2023

Let’s Meet Julia Ezra By: Jennifer Morrison

She might be just 19 years old but Julia Ezra has collected a lot of horsemanship knowledge in a short time. The daughter of longtime Ontario horsepeople Daryl and Michelle Ezra, Julia is expanding her horizons in Thoroughbred racing with training, handicapping and on-air work on her resumé. “I have wanted to take out my trainer’s license since I was 16, but you can’t [in Ontario] until you are 21,” said Julia. “For now, I will just try and do as many jobs as I can, learn more.”

Born in Welland, ON and one of four children for the Ezras, Julia was a ‘backstretch baby’, accompanying her mother to Fort Erie barn where Daryl has had a stable for horses since the early 1990s.

“As a kid, I would hide in the tack room at Fort Erie because they didn’t allow anyone under 12 working there,” laughed Julia.

Once she was a teenager, Julia had her grooming license and learned how to jog racehorses at a nearby farm. She credits jockey Anthony Husbands for helping her graduate to galloping horses at the track.

“Anthony taught me a lot,” said Julia. “I knew how to jog a horse, but Anthony really helped me to learn how to gallop.”

Julia laughs when she remembers one of her first workouts on a horse. “He was with me on another horse. He chirped to my horse to get him to go faster and then when I couldn’t pull the horse up, he grabbed him for me.”

Julia got a job as a pony rider at Fort Erie a few years ago and has filled that role on race days at Fort Erie. Last year she claimed her first horse, Reign by Rein, and that filly went on to win for the young horsewoman and be named the Distance Female Horse of the meeting.

Julia also got a chance to work in front of the camera on several occasions, handicapping races on the Fort Erie simulcast feed and hosting the HBPA Ontario Fort Erie Awards. And, on the biggest racing day of the Fort Erie season, Prince of Wales Day, Julia was enlisted to greet the winner of the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown while on horseback for the TSN broadcast.

“That was a highlight. First, I was ponying Ironstone to the gate for the race. Then I had to gallop fast to get to the other side of the track. I interviewed Justin Stein on Duke of Love after they won.”

Julia has moved her tack to Woodbine for this year where she is exercising horses for trainer Katarina Vassilieva. She is also set to join the pony team of Richard Persad at Woodbine, working each race day at Canada’s biggest track.

“I feel like I am learning a lot more here at Woodbine right now. I am on the pony, and I can watch so many different horses and trainers and riders go by. I like watching all the different horses training.”

Julia is also a co-founder of the Double Blooded Syndicate, an affordable horse ownership club for people new to the sport.

“Originally it was my idea to get a bunch of people together and claim a horse,” said Julia. “The first group we had, Krazy 8, was mostly just my Dad’s friends who had owned horses before. Then we started Double Blooded for newcomers.”

Double Blooded offers a share in the club for $1,000, a one-time payment that includes all training bills. Reign by Rein, sold by Julia to the club, will race for Double Blooded this year.

“It’s very simple and fun. We have group chats online and my Dad sends them videos of the horse all the time. On race day, we all hang out together.”

Encouraging new owners into horse racing is something at the top of Julia’s long list of things she wants to pursue in racing. Considering how far she has come already, it’s a good bet she can accomplish anything.

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May 3, 2023

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April 5, 2023

Q & A with Don MacRae

By: Jennifer Morrison

It’s the last day of March 2023 and while there have been hints of spring, on this morning wet snow is falling on the Woodbine backstretch. But inside barn 35, Don MacRae and his dedicated staff at D-Mac Racing are prepping some two dozen Thoroughbreds for the upcoming season, set to begin April 22. Don, who has been training since he was a teenager, is excited to begin his 29th year as a trainer. A husband – wife Leigh Anne is an integral part of the stable – and father, Don will finish the morning training and head off to play in one of his weekly house league hockey games.

We caught up with Don at the end of his morning training duties:

Q: Where were you born and when did horses come into your life?

DM: I was born in Hamilton. Horses have been a part of my entire life, it’s in my blood. My Dad owned a few Standardbreds. I still have a photo here of me at the age of 2 sitting in the back of a sulky. I have always loved animals and loved being around horses. From Grade 10 and on, working with horses was going to be a given for me.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to train Thoroughbreds?

DM: My dad bought a piece of a Thoroughbred and when I was 16 through to 18, we had five horses of our own with other trainers helping us. I think we had something like 18 top three finishes from 22 starts. I had always thought I would go to college or university but when my OSAP (Ontario Assistant Student Program) cheque came in, I ripped it up. I took my trainers test at 18 and the rest is history.

Q: In your first two years as a licensed trainer, at Fort Erie in 1995 and ’96, you did not win a race from 31 starts. Did that discourage you?

DM: I got drilled! My dad and I had done so well but as soon as I got my license, I got humbled like you can’t imagine. But it was good for me. It set me back on my heels, but I am a confident person.

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Don won eight races in 1997 and his first winner was the filly Dawlish, who won at Fort Erie for owner James Alessi.  The young trainer was on his way. Through the next decade Don was prominent on the leading trainers’ standings at Fort Erie and also kept busy in the winter months, racing at Mountaineer or Charles Town. He also had horses make occasional starts at Woodbine and by 2009, he was ready to permanently set up shop at the country’s biggest track.

One of Don’s specialties was seeking out improving horses to claim and one of his first big success stories was plucking the filly Acting Naughty from a $40,000 maiden claiming race in 2011 for owner John Hillier. Acting Naughty went on to win the Grade 3 Whimsical Stakes and earn some $400,000. Another sharp claim was Puntrooskie, also taken for $40,000, who won the Grade 3 Bold Venture stakes in 2016 for his D Mac Racing Stable, Michael Lay and Michael Loughry. The two Michaels have been long time clients for Don. One of his newer owners is La Huerta of the father-son team of Jim and Graeme Bruce. It was with La Huerta’s Avoman, a yearling purchase in 2019, that Don won his biggest race in 2021.

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Q: What are your favourite moments from the last couple of years?

DM: The birth of my daughter Blake Olivia was number one. And Avoman’s Plate Trial win in 2021. That was a pretty big deal. Any time you can win any race at Woodbine is great, this is a very tough business.

Q: You claimed quite a few horses in 2022, was that by design?

DM: Graeme Bruce called me and said that he and his Dad had a lot of fun claiming horses in the past and that we should do more of it. So, we went on a little spree. Between La Huerta, Michael Lay and myself I think we claimed 12 horses and 11 of them won.

Q: You own shares in most of the horses in your barn. Why is that?

DM: Michael Lay instilled that in me. It gives confidence to my owners. I’m nowhere near wealthy so when I put up a little bit of money, I need my horses to produce. The big thing for us is having a lot of top three finishes. And we are pretty consistent over the years. I have a great staff and I am always pretty happy at the end of the season.

Q: You have had success with drawing new owners into the Ontario racing industry. And our industry certainly needs more owners. How can we do that?

DM: I think the industry is on the way back up and with the building of the expanded casino at Woodbine, that is sure to bring more people to the property and draw interest.

I do think we do not market the game properly, however. Things like dragging out post times of races; no one wants to sit and wait 35 minutes between races. We need a bit more of a rush or people get bored.

Q: You seem to have a lot of fun being a trainer, and owner, in horse racing. Do you want to get bigger?

DM: “Being a successful trainer is about what you have in your stalls. It’s a tough game. I enjoy having happy banter with other trainers. We always chirp to each other, but you have to be mindful too, this game can humble you. I will have 24 horses this year and that is enough. I see my best friend, Kevin Attard, and all the horses he has and it’s tough. That isn’t for me.”

Don MacRae has 48 stakes wins, 563 wins from 2,556 starters for a career 22 percent win average. It’s a good bet his horses will be ready to roll when the season opens.

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March 14, 2023

By: Jennifer Morrison

When the dust settled from the 2022 Fort Erie Thoroughbred season and the statistics tabulated there was a new name near the top of the trainer’s list. Roy Agostino, in his first full of training, racked up 19 wins to be second to Julie Mathes, who was winning her third straight title. Roy put a tidy bow on what was a super year by winning two races at Woodbine including one a new claim, Hardware Gap, on the last day of that tough meeting.

“I’m excited to get going again,” said the Welland, Ontario resident. “People have been calling me a lot to take horses for them to train.” And while Roy, who is 48, is late on the scene as a Thoroughbred trainer, there is plenty of horsemanship and experience in his back pocket, having trained Standardbreds for some 10 years.

Roy comes by his love for horses and racing honestly as his father Dominic enjoyed owning and training a Standardbred or two and his uncle Joe was also a trainer. A millwright, Dominic often had Roy with him when he was at the barn.

Roy jumped right into owning and training Standardbreds in the late 1990s had success and then began a family in 2004. He left training for a while -he now has an 18-year-old daughter, Alexis – before the horses lured him back in. But this time, he was fascinated by Thoroughbreds.

In order to get his Thoroughbred trainer’s license, he had to put in five years working on the backstretch so he worked with Josh Robillard, Joe Humber and Sharon Ceccato before passing his trainer’s test late in 2021. Roy saddled his first starter, Letting Loose, in October of 2021 and gelding scampered away to a 5 1/2 length win in allowance company. Another claimed runner, the filly Crumlin Bird, was also a winner from Roy’s first 16 starters.

At the outset of 2022, Roy put together a stable of horses owned by Even Steven Stable of Cathy and Rob Noyes, Michael Bellissimo and his sister Mary Lynne. The wins came frequently and by the end of last year, one of his star pupils, Big Time Louie, was named the Male Claiming Horse of the Year at the Fort Erie awards. Big Time Louie was one of several winners for the Noyes’ Even Stable, which launched in 2017.

“They are the parents of my good friend Brad,” said Roy. “Years ago, we always used to joke around about getting a horse and one day his Dad said they should do it.” The couple has built up a farm in Port Colbourne where Roy trains the horses in the winter. The Noyes’ grandson Owen worked for Agostino last year,

“They are great people,” said Roy. “They love the sport and every time one of their horses is running, they bring tons of family and friends.” Roy is excited about getting started in 2023, in particular since he has his first couple of 2-year-olds learning their lessons. “I have 16 horses ready to ship in [to Fort Erie],” said Roy. “I may run a couple at Woodbine to start. I’m just chomping at the bit ready to go.” Based on the success he has had early in his Thoroughbred career; you can be sure Roy’s horses will be ready to go too.

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February 28, 2023

By: Jennifer Morrison

From Scarborough, Ontario to Europe and back, Shelley Fitzgerald has followed horses around the world. These days, Shelley is firmly settled at Woodbine racetrack where she has built a reputation as an exceptional horseperson. Her small stable, made up of horses owned by her and business partner Martin Wickins, is coming off its best season in more than decade and all signs say 2023 could be even better.

The exciting mare Stormy Silence, a stakes placed daughter of Silent Name (Jpn) from the Fitzgerald-bred mare Endless Approval was one of five horses Shelley shipped into Woodbine on Feb. 22, the opening day of the backstretch for this year.

Horses and riding came into Shelley’s world as a teenager. Her parents, who came from England in the 1950s, weren’t into horses but a trail ride with a friend put Shelley on a path to a career in equestrian sport. But she would have to pursue jobs with horses back in England when her parents decided to move to the county of Cornwall. Shelley found work with a local stable, caring for horses and teaching riding lessons. And then, while her Dad was still in Ontario selling their house, he suffered a heart attack and her mother went back to care for him. That left Shelley by herself in a creaky old house atop Bodmin Moor. “I was alone and I was terrified” said Shelley. “One day the woman, Lynn, who ran the riding stable asked me what was wrong and I told her about living alone. She took me in to live with her family for a few months. We’re still friends today.”

Shelley Fitzgerald and Warren Wilcox Photo by: Will Wong

She later moved to Milan where she found a higher paying job with a young, champion Italian rider but when that rider suddenly quit the sport, Shelley was out of a job. It was then that Shelley decided to move back to Canada. She found her way to Woodbine racetrack and got to learn about the world of Thoroughbred racing grooming for Danny O’Callaghan, She took an assistant trainer’s job with trainer Debbie England followed and she saddled her first winner, Say Beautiful, during her three years with that trainer.

Shelley decided to go out on her own as a trainer in 1993 and the first horse she claimed provided quite a story that she loves to tell. “It was a horse that I had worked with when I was with Debbie but he was with now with another trainer,” said Shelley about a gelding named Almighty Buck. “When I claimed him he collapsed after the race,” said Shelley. “He was a mess, but he was so beautiful and I loved him. I figured, if he couldn’t race anymore I would just keep him to ride.” Shelley had paid $7,500 for Almighty Buck and was pretty sure the gelding had soured from racing. For several weeks she simply rode the horse around the backstretch from barn to barn, visiting people. And sitting outside his stall with a coffee just playing with him.

Before the racing season came to an end, Shelley decided to try him in race to see if he was still interested in running. It was a seven furlong race at Greenwood and not long out of the gate, Almighty Buck and jockey Ricky Griffith were almost a dozen lengths behind the field. Shelley was just about to give up hope when the gelding roared past all the runners head of him and won by a long neck at 25 to 1. “I was in total shock,” she said. Almighty Buck went on to a wonderful career with Shelley, earning some $100,000 and scaling up the class ladder. On one October afternoon, he even finished third to eventual champion Langfuhr.

In 1999, Shelley met Martin Wickens. an accountant and young racehorse owner looking for a new trainer. The first horse she sent out for Wickens was a winner and they have shred horse ownership ever since. One of their claims, Semester’s End, was a multiple winner and Shelley elected to breed her. Marty bowed out at that point. Shelley was determined to breed Semester’s end to her favourite horse, Canadian Triple Crown winner With Approval, who was at stud in Kentucky. She got her mare to With Approval, but the mare was not catching. Then, the stallion was sold to England. “I asked the farm if they could just breed one more time and then just ship her back up here to me. When she got here, I found out she was in foal.”

That foal was Endless Approval, who won over $130,000 for Shelley. Wickens came back on board to share in the cost of breeding Endless Approval and Stormy Silence, her third foal, was the first one to make it to the races. It took some time, though. Stormy Silence was unraced at 2 and when close to making her debut at 3, was found one morning with an injured hind leg. Shelley believes commotion from power washing on the other side of the barn upset the filly. Later in the year, Stormy Silence bucked her shins. Shelley finally got a chance to start Stormy Silence in a maiden special weight race in June 2022 and while the filly’s impressive workout times had the backstretch buzzing, the public let her go off at 26 to 1, the longest shot on the board. The race was over soon after the gates opened. Showing blinding speed, Stormy Silence zipped through an opening two furlongs in the five furlong turf dash in 21.21 and led to the finish in 56.25, putting more than $73,000 in the bank.

The filly nicknamed ‘Fiona’ came right back and won an allowance race before getting caught in the final strides of the $100,000 Zadracarta Stakes to multiple stakes winner Lorena. “I was thrilled and so proud of her,” said Shelley. “My exercise rider Ruben Peralta had always said she was going to be a good one.”

Stormy Silence is back at Woodbine and just one of several exciting horses Shelley and Wickens are looking forward to racing in 2023. Shelley also gets some help from her partner and fellow trainer Warren Wilcox, also an accomplished horseman. “I’m a hands-on trainer, I love to groom them and do their stalls,” said said. “That way I can stay on top of everything. They tell me when they are ready to run.” The patience and care Shelley shows her horses has certainly paid off throughout her career.

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February 10, 2023

By: Jennifer Morrison

You can hear the joy and gratitude in Krista Cole-Simpson’s voice when she talks about watching her former star horse, Candy Overload, win the Forego Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky on February 4. Krista, you see, developed the Ontario bred son of local stallion Reload from an unpolished yearling into a graded stakes-placed sprinter through his first three years of racing. Not only did Krista train the gelding but she was also co-owner with breeders Denny Andrews and Sherry McLean’s Northern Dawn Stable. “I was so proud of him,” said Krista. “Candy Overload changed everything for me.”

Following the gelding’s second place finish in the Bold Venture Stakes (G3)last August, Krista, Andrews and McLean sold him to the partnership of Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Leonard Schleiffer who would watch their new runner win the Kennedy Road Stakes (G2) before his Turfway win. And Krista is excited to start developing the next Candy Overload and the young woman is coming off her best season as a trainer from a purse earnings standpoint.

She has more than 20 horses of various ages set to join her stable in 2023.

Born in Prince Edward Island, Krista was horse crazy and took every opportunity to be around horses. In P.E.I., that meant Standardbreds at the nearby racetrack, but she also rode show jumpers. Her first thought when she finished high school was to study to become a veterinarian so she collected a science degree from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. It was a last-minute trip to Woodbine racetrack with a friend once year that changed the course of her passion. “My friend and I had been in Ottawa showing horses and she wanted to take a quick trip to Woodbine racetrack,” said Krista. “I had watched races from there but had never been. Once I got there, I never left. I fell in love with it.”

Krista groomed horses for the successful stable of Malcolm Pierce and his wife Sally and then concentrated on learning how to ride. She was tall, so being a Woodbine jockey was out, but after learning the riding ropes at Woodbine and in Florida during the winter, took out her Quarter Horse jockey license in 2003. She won on her first career mount for Carol and Wayne Proctor and would go on to win 36 races in her few seasons of riding.

When her daughter Kalista DeSouza was born in 2008, Krista hung up the jockey tack but continued to work for various stables including that of top trainer Laurie Silvera. Krista was also friends with Sherry McLean, a longtime presence at the famed Gardiner Farms which had been managed by the late Dr. Mike Colterjohn. It was from Mike that Krista bought her first horse, the Philanthropist gelding she named Remember to Dream. She took out her trainer’s license in 2012, had a few starters that year and then won her first race in 2013 with Remember to Dream.

A group of people riding horses

Description automatically generated with low confidenceIn 2016, she took the $3,000 yearling purchase Princess Bullet and made her a stakes placed winner for a small group of friends. Two years later, she won a race with the filly Humble Beginnings, owned by her daughter Kalista. It was that same year when she was offered a share of Candy Overload, who was from the first crop of Reload. The gelding was a winner and stakes placed in his second and third starts as a juvenile and has improved with maturity. Another son of Reload, Lil Bit Gangsta has won nearly $65,000 for Krista and Denny.

Following a successful 2022 season in which her small stable won five races with 12 second-place finishes, Krista has lured new owners and purchased a few young horses for the new season.

Krista rides her horses at Northern Dawn each day throughout the winter and is helped at the barn by her husband Damian Simpson. One of the unraced horses she is excited about is the 3-year-old Clive Cross, named for the late Dave Cross, Jr., for new owners Mark Varey and Steve Doane of Manitoulin Island. Clive Cross is another son of Reload.

Krista, who credits Sherry and Denny for helping her career, is open to entertaining new owners who would like to own a share in a racehorse. And the way her stable has been growing and improving each year, she would be a good choice for any owner.

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February 10, 2023

The Jockey Club of Canada is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2022 Sovereign Awards honouring Canada’s champions and recognizing their outstanding achievements in Canadian Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding.

The winner of each category, along with Canada’s Horse of the Year for 2022, will be announced during our 48th Annual Sovereign Award ceremony which will be held on the evening of Thursday, April 13, 2023 at Universal Eventspace in Vaughan, Ontario.

Please call or email us for more information and to reserve your tickets today! Tickets can also be purchased online at: https://jockeyclubcanada.com/online-payments/.

2022 Sovereign Awards Finalists

The finalists in each of the following categories are listed in alphabetical order.

Champion Two-Year-Old Female

Cairo Consort

Last Call

Renegade Rebel

Champion Two-Year-Old Male

Philip My Dear

Poulin in O T

Velocitor

Champion Three-Year-Old Female

Moira

Sister Seagull

Souper Hoity Toity

Champion Three-Year-Old Male

Hall of Dreams

Ironstone

Sir for Sure

Champion Older Main Track Female

Infinite Patience

Lady Speightspeare

Our Flash Drive

Champion Older Main Track Male

Soy Tapatio

War Bomber (Ire)

Who’s the Star

Champion Female Turf Horse

Fev Rover (Ire)

Lady Speightspeare

Moira

Champion Male Turf Horse

Filo di Arianna (Brz)

Philip My Dear

Ready for the Lady

Sir for Sure

Champion Female Sprinter

Hazelbrook

Lady Speightspeare

Our Flash Drive

Champion Male Sprinter

Arzak

Filo di Arianna (Brz)

Lucky Score

Outstanding Broodmare

Cosa Rara

Count to Three

Include Katherine

Outstanding Breeder

Adena Springs

Sam-Son Farm

Tall Oaks Farm

Outstanding Owner

Schickedanz, Bruno

Ulwelling, Al and Bill

X-Men Racing, Madaket Stables LLC and SF Racing LLC

Outstanding Trainer

Attard, Kevin

Carroll, Josie

Casse, Mark E.

Outstanding Apprentice Jockey

Jones, Slade

Prescod, N’Rico

Santo, Kimal

Outstanding Jockey

Hernandez, Rafael Manuel

Husbands, Patrick

Kimura, Kazushi

Wilson, Emma-Jayne

Horse of the Year

The Horse of the Year finalists will be announced during the 48th Annual Sovereign Awards ceremony.

The 2022 Media Sovereign Awards finalists, the winner of the Award for Outstanding Groom and this year’s E. P. Taylor Award and Special Sovereign Award winners will be announced in the coming days.

The winner in each of the three Media Sovereign Awards categories will be announced, along with the other Sovereign Awards winners during the 48th Annual Sovereign Awards ceremony on the evening of Thursday, April 13, 2023 at Universal Eventspace in Vaughan, Ontario.

For more information please contact The Jockey Club of Canada at (416) 675-7756 or jockeyclubcanada@gmail.com.

The Jockey Club of Canada was founded in 1973 by E.P. Taylor to serve as the international representative of the Canadian Thoroughbred industry. The mission of The Jockey Club of Canada is to promote and maintain a high standard for Thoroughbred racing and breeding in Canada at a level which is recognized internationally for the benefit of all those interested in the sport including the general public by operations and services such as, but not limited to: evaluating all Graded, Listed and Black-type races in Canada annually; conducting the annual Sovereign Awards for outstanding achievement in Thoroughbred racing and breeding in Canada; maintaining a field office in Canada for the Jockey Club of the United States and the Jockey Club Registry Service; and by representing Canada as a Member of the IFHA.

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January 25, 2023

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January 18, 2023

IMMEDIATE RELEASE   Strong Support for Future Use of Stem Cells to Treat Equine Osteoarthritis     First published in Equine Guelph’s 20th Annual Research Update – January 11, 2023   Guelph, ON January, 18, 2023 – Two studies led by Dr. Judith Koenig and her team at the Ontario Veterinary College have shown equine pooled cryopreserved umbilical cord blood, (eCB) MSC, to be safe and effective in treating joint pain and inflammation. Both studies received funding from Equine Guelph.   RESEARCH S.2 E.1 - Osteoarthritis stem cell study - Dr. Judith Koenig - January 2023   In the first study, the stem cells harvested from multiple donors of equine umbilical cord blood, (eCB), (kindly provided by eQcell), MSC were compared to saline injections in research horses. “This type of cells is much more practical if you have a cell bank,” says Koenig. “You can treat more horses with it and it’s off the shelf.” With no systemic reactions, the green light was given for the second study to test stem cell therapy in horses with lameness due to fetlock osteoarthritis.     Effectiveness of treatment in the second study was conducted by a lameness evaluator that was blinded to whether the horses received stem cell treatment or the saline placebo. “Being consistent in creating the same size chip surgically in the horses prior to treatment and exercise was a challenge,” said Koenig. The four-month study necessitated considerable manpower, with six standardbreds receiving equal daily exercise on treadmills following up with MRI’s.     MRI’s, x-rays, ultrasounds and weekly lameness evaluations revealed signs of osteoarthritis improved in the group treated with (eCB) MSC’s. After six weeks of treatment, the arthroscopic score was also significantly lower in the MSC group compared to the control group.   Another trial with six horses is planned for Spring 2023. The initial findings are very exciting for the future possibilities of treating equine osteoarthritis with stem cell therapy.   Equine Guelph is pleased to support a number of high-quality projects at the University of Guelph, by virtue of funding provided largely by the racing industry (Standardbred, Thoroughbred and Quarter horse organizations): the Horse Improvement Program from the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and the E.P. Taylor Foundation, started by veterinarians in the Thoroughbred industry, and now maintained in trust by the University and Equine Guelph.   Full publication – 20th Equine Guelph Research Annual view or download here

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January 18, 2023