Cautious reaction greets genetic breakthrough

European breeders as well as trainers have reacted with a combination of caution and enthusiasm to the genetic breakthrough that could help identify a racehorse’s optimum distance.

A company backed by premier Irish trainer Jim Bolger believes it has created a revolutionary test that Bolger describes as the most important thing that has happened to breeding since it began over 300 years ago.

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 Test could 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 – cc – sprinters), (ct – middle-distance) or (tt – stayers) – and thus avoid running over incorrect trips.

Tipper House Stud owner John Osborne, a qualified vet, said it’s probably a sign of things to come.  “The use of equine science can be a huge advantage.  The research looks good and 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.”

But top trainer Mark Johnston, who is also a vet, is a bit of a cynic saying he couldn’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.”