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Cautious optimism over genetic breakthrough

BREEDERS as well as trainers yesterday reacted with a combination of caution and enthusiasm to the genetic breakthrough that could help identify a racehorse's optimum distance.

As reported in yesterday's Racing Post, a company that is backed by Jim Bolger believes it has created a "revolutionary" test that the Derby-winning trainer described as"without doubt the most important thing that has happened to breeding since it began over 300 years ago". He was supported in that view by Racing Post bloodstock columnist Tony Morris.

The genetic discovery is based on the work of scientist Dr Emmeline Hill, who has identified three gene types based on muscle mass that could dictate via a DNA test whether a horse is a sprinter, middle-distance runner, or a stayer.

She believes her Equinome Speed Gene Testcould help breeders decide which stallion to send their mare to, and allow stud owners to test for the most suitable mares to send to their horse, and thus tailor their books to give them the most chance of success.

Owners and trainers could also test racehorses to establish which of the three genetic characteristics it carries - 'c:c' (for sprinters), 'c:t' (middle-distance), or 't:t' (stayers) - and thus avoid running over incorrect trips.

Tipper House Stud ownerJohn Osborne, a qualified vet, said last night: "It looks interesting and is probably a sign of things to come. The use of equine science can be a huge advantage.

"The research looks good, it clearly identifies the sprintersand it clearly identifies the stayers, and if you have a horse it would be interesting to know where you stood. I'm sure there will be people who would like to support it and find out more about it, further research could lead to further breakthroughs."

Whitsbury Manor Stud's Chris Harper was, however, less excited by the research: "The part I disagree with is that by breeding a sprinter with a stayer you'll get a middle-distance horse. If you do that I think you'll get a sprinter who can't sprint or a stayer who can't stay. I'll be surprised if a lot of people sign up to it but I think a lot of people will take an interest."

Mark Johnston - Newmarket (July)

Mark Johnston was unsure of the practical value of the research

  PICTURE: EDWARD WHITAKER  

Top trainer Mark Johnston, who is also a vet, said of the research: "Maybe I'm an old cynic but I can't imagine there is one gene that could determine stamina or distance in a horse.

"If I lined up 179 horses (the number of Group and Listed winners that were tested by Dr Hill over five years) I could probably get pretty close to knowing their ideal distance by looking at them. That said I would need to see more of the details to form a definite opinion."

Fellow trainer Sir Mark Prescott added: "I think it would be interesting to confirm what you've seen before and it would be helpful if you were in a muddle as to what distance to go for, but it would be of more use to breeders than it would be to trainers."

His thoughts were echoed by Tom Dascombe, who said: "I'm sure it's very useful to people that maybe want to put a mare to a stallion, but I don't see how it's going to help me as a trainer."

Looking to the future, John Osborne said the Equinome test did not allow interpretation of a horse's ability, and said: "The next step could be to find those genetic sequences that are linked to the other traits that affect performance; there are so many factors that affect the way a horse will run.

"It could be that we can now start to quantify things that we otherwise wouldn't be able to quantify, that until now we'd had to rely on intuition, and reading the tea leaves so to speak.

"Everybody wants to at least give themselves a fighting chance, and by knowing you are starting with the right raw materials [the right genes] you know you have the right starting point."

 

 

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