Genetics in Race Horse Breeding

New Trends in Breeding Horse Racing Champions

Breeding improved animals has always fascinated horse racing lovers. It has become a time honored tradition to extend the life of male horses particularly as studs, long after they are too old to race, or even slightly injured. Many wagers are placed on the basis of ancestry, rather than evidence of current performance.

Breeding thoroughbreds is both expensive and risky. The best breeders manage no more than two brood mares a year. It takes perseverance and contacts in the horse racing industry to locate the best partner for one’s horse. In-vitro fertilization has not yet been introduced to horse racing, so there is no convention of storing eggs from brood mares, though transport of frozen semen does take place. Transport of thoroughbreds over long distances for planned mating is also common practice.

Breeding race horses has become the preserve of the wealthy, and rulers and religious leaders of the Muslim world are amongst the top breeders in the world. Horse farms still exist in private hands, but they focus more on preserving specific breeds, and cater to common horses kept as companions. The Emir of Dubai has made significant investments in the recent past to acquire top breeding farms in and around London.

Genetics has made rapid strides which are yet to touch horse racing. It may be because of all the tradition which surrounds this sport that new technology has been slow to take off. There are also ethical considerations involved in creating ‘designer animals’. It remains to be said that a world which can now clone sheep in routine manner, can do the same with equine species as well! Mules have been cloned and raced, but the concept has not caught on in the mainstream of horse racing. Some would welcome this adherence to nature, but modern biotechnology offers so many benefits, that horse racing cannot stay away from the science forever. Genetic screening of blastocysts has some ethical advantages, so not all genetic technology need aim at producing ‘super animals’ or exact copies.

Training and care have their own roles in horse racing performance, so animals with the same genes need not perform on an equal footing. The world of breeding in horse racing does make selections from a relatively limited pool, and the sport would benefit by introduction of more bloodlines. It does appear that traditional breeders of race horses need more exposure to scientific developments in the modern world, and there is scope for veterinarians to hone their skills in genetic breeding as well.

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