Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Whole genome study looked at racing performance, distance, surface and height. Developed a scoring system of grades ABCD for racing performance and established the incidence of the grades at sales. Markers include a female-specific SNP. They also found a marker that is specific to Mr. Prospector horses, a SNP that's only present in the good Mr. P horses, and not in the non elite horses.
Data predicts that you can eliminate 50% of individuals on a short list at sales and retain 75% of the GSWs. Blind test found the 6 GSWs hidden among 55 moderate horses. Population is10% As, 40% Bs 40% Cs 10% Ds
Tested 27 G1 sprinters and all were homozygous for sprint genotype. But several horses who won the Kentucky Derby were homozygous sprinters. Race pace is crucial in American racing.
There are multiple SNPs strongly associated with different surfaces, some associated with muscle enzymes.
Matthew ends with perhaps the most appropriate comment of the day:
This is real and it's coming, and we hope that you will embrace it.
Almost all quarter horses are CCs, almost all Egyptian Arabians are TTs. Thoroughbreds, elite graded stakes winning horses, show what you would expect, more CTs than anything else, your basic normal distribution, slightly skewed in favor of CCs. National hunt (steeplechase) winners on the other hand are heavily skewed toward TTs, but no CCs at all.
New Equinome research published today, new study indicates that the myostatin gene is the most powerful indicator of best race distance. Says Equinome's marker performs 15 times better than any other marker in predicting best racing distance.
What genes are responding to exercise. Certain genes activity are significantly enhanced after exercise. The response increases over time as a result of training. It prepares the system to be able to be better able to respond to exercise.
Over 5k genes present in skeletal muscle. After year of training 16 genes increased activity and 58 decreased, The gene that changed the most was myostatin. Decreased its activity over 4 times.
Bob shows that the distribution of phenotypes of classic winners and leading sires has changed drastically since 1970s. Breed has gotten larger, lighter, more powerful, and not as balanced as they used to be and much less consistent. 2000s starting to be a little more consistent.
Secretariat turns out to be a critical horse in terms of biomechanics....His phenotype helps pull the breed back toward balance, through horses like A.P. Indy, Storm Cat, and Gone West.
Tamariello discusses epistasis and epigenetics, both of which complicate the simple DNA approach. Just because you have a particular gene, it doesn't necessarily drive the phenotype. The control of the expression of genes into proteins that actually govern the body. Just by looking at the gene sequence alone, you can't predict everything.
Tamariello's company screens for:
Two muscle-related genes
Two behavior genes
Two bone development genes and
One energy-related gene
plus Whole genome screening and other higher-level screening.
Tamariello is going over basic genetic biology that everybody in the crowd should already know. Apologetic for perhaps talking down to the audience, but still that's what he's doing. Good refresher course for those too far removed from Biology 101 I suppose.
Once through with the basics, he moves on to more specific stuff related to the Thoroughbred.
Muscle Gene 1, a gene linked to muscle function. Two alleles, racing and non-racing. Thoroughbred breeders have bred over centuries to have 2 copies of the racing allele, but there is a sub-population that is not homozygous. Heterozygous can be successful, but homozygous recessive (non-racing) are too slow to even make it to the track. This is the genotype found in most draft horses. Having 2 copies of the racing alleles, however, does not make it a fast horse.
"Equine genomics will enhance and enable good horsemanship, not compete with it Genomics in no way threatens the importance and artistry of horsemanship."
"What we're tyring to do is localize what region in the genome has an association with the trait you're studying. We know where in the genome where each SNP is located, know the frequency of each allele in the population. Then we compare the frequency of alleles in the population as a whole to the population with the trait you're studying.
When you find differences, that shows theres' something of interest on that particular chromosome at that particular position. Then look back at the genome map and see what genes are in that region.
The horse was added to the USDA Animal Genome Mapping project in 1996. The Human Genome project extended from 1990—2003. That gave all of animal sciences a blueprint for the genome but also provided new technology for the sequencing of other genomes, including the horse.
NIH decided they could learn additional information by sequincing the genomes of other species to compare the human genome to that of other species. The horse community convinced the NIH to select the horse to sequence among equids, because of the community of scientists working on horse genetics, there were already several well-developed genome maps; there are many biomedical aspects of horse that relate to human health, for example at the elite athlete level; veterinary medical applications; and the existence of deep pedigrees to study the inheritance of traits.
The proposal was submited to NHGRI in 2005. Sent samples to the Broad Institute in November 2005. NIH looked for a highly inbred horse, because of the way DNA is sequenced. With a highly inbred individual, the two halves are more similar, so easier for the computer program to put it together. A Thoroughbred mare named Twilight was chosen. Sequencing started in 2006 and completed fall 2007.
"We're anticipating that genetic research will reinforce and validate much of the analysis that we see in Thoroughbred pedigrees."
"Relying solely on pedigree is foolhardy, but likewise so is dismissal of pedigree as unimportant. Pedigree will continue to be an important eliminating criteria.Maybe 5-10 years away we're going to see a change in what pedigree actually means. What we're seeing with genetics is that though a mare might be an Easy Goer mare, she has very little of Easy Goer's good genes. Genetics can tell us what has actually been passed on instead of just a theoretical assumption and we might breed two mares by the same sire entirely differently."
"In terms of pedigree research in my time in the industry we've gone from split pedigree books and doing everything by hand to computer programs that access every horse in the population. Now everybody can have access to the data. What is now important is how to interpret the data."
Of course what came next was basically a sales pitch for Alan's and Byron's True Nicks program, but hey, that's why all the speakers are here. It's a capitalist country!
Friday, October 8, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
England's champion older filly Sariska refused to leave the starting gate today in the Yorkshire Oaks. Despite jockey Jamie Spencer's frantic urging, the magnificently made four-year-old daughter of Pivotal out of Maycocks Bay, by Muhtarram, stood almost motionless in her stall as the rest of the field raced away across the Knavesmire.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Frank Mitchell's recent historical series prodded me into exploring my own historical wetware and software. There's enough stories in there to fill several books....but since the thought of publishing books of any sort, much less horse books, is enough to reduce strong men to crying for mommy these days, we all know that's not going to happen.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Sign on the top of the building says Calder Casino. If you make your way around the warehouse to the back of the racecourse grandstand, the sign says Calder Casino. Well, okay, let's drive on around to the paddock side on the eastern end of the grandstand.....Calder Casino. Wait a minute is the track still there? Yep. But you'd never know it from the signage anywhere on the racecourse buildings.
In fact, Calder does not even want horsemen entering what used to be the main entrance anymore. They have opened up what used to be a deliveries access road around the southern perimeter of the property onto Unity Blvd. and undesirables like us are supposed to head to the grandstand and stable area via that two-lane entrance as opposed to the wide, four lane expanses of the redesigned entrance to the casino.
That tells you all you need to know about the ultimate future of slot machines funding horse racing. They may be a short term necessity, but anyone who believes the companies that own "Racinos" won't kill off the race part of that neologism as soon as they dare is living in an alternate reality. All you have to do is read the signs.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
"Horses in racing condition do not need medications. Horses that need medications are not in racing condition."
Foster's letter, speaking truth to power, correctly points out that owners have the power to stop the medication nightmare that has engulfed racing over the last 40 years. All they have to do is stop paying for them. You and I both--and I suspect Dan Foster as well--know how likely that is to happen.
Thoroughbred trainers are addicted to medication (for their horses, not for themselves--at least we hope not!), and most of them don't seem to understand how that addiction has changed and degraded their profession. They also do not seem to understand how it changes and degrades their horses. The overwhelming majority of them have no historical perspective on how this all came about.
In the 1970s, medications--primarily Butazolidin and Lasix--were sold (and sold hard) to the racing industry as a way to keep horses racing and increase the number of starts per horse. In the 1970s, average career starts per foal was 23. Today that number is 14. How's that working out for ya?
Number of starts per year has also declined dramatically over the same time frame.
Lasix (now marketed as Salix for some incomprehensible reason) seems particularly detrimental to the frequent racing of horses. Horses administered Lasix routinely lose around 50 pounds of water weight (that's one reason they run faster). It usually takes weeks for them to build back that lost weight and rebalance their systems. That is one of the main reasons, if not THE main reason, that trainers now insist on spacing their horses races at least three weeks, preferably four or five, apart.
Just this week we witnessed another blow to racing when Jess Jackson declined to race Rachel Alexandra against Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom S.(G1), despite Oaklawn's inflation of the purse to a potential $5-million. The stated reason? The earliest trainer Steve Asmussen could envision giving Rachel a prep race was three weeks before the Apple Blossom's date, and that would not be enough time between starts for the 2009 Horse of the Year.
Why not? Everyone in racing knows why not but they don't want to admit it. It's not as if modern trainers have discovered a new, better way to train horses that requires long breaks between races. It's not because modern horses are not as resilient as Thoroughbreds of 40 years ago (or at least not mostly). It's mostly because no Thoroughbred, then or now, could recover that quickly from the damage done to their systems by the drugs they receive.
Despite the fact that everyone knows that Lasix is hard on horses, even when medication reform is discussed everyone assumes that the one drug that not only will but "should" be allowed to continue is Lasix.
How many Triple Crown winners would we have had since Affirmed without medications. Does the two week rest after running on Lasix in the Derby followed by a three week rest after running in the Preakness on Lasix put too great a strain on a horse's system? Is it simply coincidence that racing has not had a Triple Crown winner since 1978?
I'm tired of arguing over whether or not banning race-day medications is realistic. That is not the right question. The right question is what is best for the horse. Draining a horse of fluids so that it cannot race again for the next month simply cannot be the best thing for the horse.
We come back to Dan Foster speaking truth to power.
Horses in racing condition do not need medications. Horses that need medications are not in racing condition.
Friday, January 29, 2010
I'm not so sure. One of the questions I asked Dr. Hill was whether her test is superior to the opinion of an experienced, competent conformation and pedigree professional. Again, you'll have to read the magazine to see her answer.
One of the reasons I have doubts about Dr. Hill's research is sample size. Hill's basic sample size was 148 elite Thoroughbreds. That's pretty small for a study of a population as large as the Thoroughbred. There are certainly more than 500,000 Thoroughbreds alive in the world right now. A few years ago, the number was pushing 1-million, but that has probably declined significantly.
Hill's elite sample gets divided up further into CCs, CTs, and TTs, naturally, producing even smaller samples of horses with those genotypes. One result of that small sample size can be seen in the standard error of the average best racing distance of the three groups.
Standard error is a measure of uncertainty. I'm sure you've all seen political polls that predict that candidate A will win 51% of the vote and candidate B 49% +- 2%. That “+- 2%” is the standard error. In that case, that means that the race is actually a statistical dead heat, since the real percentages for each candidate theoretically could vary by two percentage points and they're only two percentage points apart in the poll. Another poll the next day could (and often does) give exactly the opposite result.
Hill's results show that the best racing distance for horses with the CC genotype that her “speed gene te average st” tests for is 6.2 furlongs, +- 0.8 furlongs. That's not bad. That means that it's pretty likely that the average best winning distance for those horses is going to be between 5.4 and 7 furlongs roughly 70% of the time (in a normal distribution), and 6.2 furlongs is the most likely number. You're probably not going to do much better than that with such a small sample size.
The problem appears with the CTs and TTs. The average best winning distance for CTs is 9.1 furlongs, +- 2.4 furlongs; average for TTs is 10.5 furlongs, +- 2.7 furlongs. I'm not an expert—it's been almost 40 years since my graduate level statistics courses—but those look like pretty big standard errors to me....just the kind you might get from a human expert.
I am quite confident that with the appropriate pedigree information and a good look at the physical horse that I could predict its best racing distance within about a quarter mile pretty damned consistently.
Still, people tend to want what they perceive as certainty. I strongly suspect that many of the large farms and racing stables in England and Ireland have already opted to have all of their horses tested. To a billionaire, the $1400 per horse cost of the test is pretty meaningless.
I also strongly suspect, however, that the test will have virtually no effect on employment of bloodstock agents and other advisers. Equinome's test cannot tell you if that yearling with the genotype you prefer has offset knees or a curby hock, or whether he moves like a racehorse.
That requires a human eye, human intelligence, and human experience.
P.S. It may well be true that Dr. Hill has since gathered more unpublished evidence that reduces the standard error. But the spreads in the data actually make sense in terms of the way horses actually race. There are horses that are purely sprinters. There is another group that can win at sprint distances but are better up to about 9 furlongs. Then there is another group that generally can't beat decent horses at six furlongs but can win between 7 or 8 and 12 furlongs or more. And then there are horses that don't really fit within any of those patterns but are superior at every distance. Those are rare animals indeed.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Briefly, the research shows that there are two alleles, "C" and "T", at a particular position on a gene that governs muscle mass in Thoroughbreds. This means the horse's genetic code at that particular spot must read either "CC", "CT" or "TT". The important finding from the research on populations of both elite and non-elite Thoroughbreds is that CC horses strongly prefer sprint distances and are more precocious, CTs are mostly milers and 10-furlong horses who may or may not be precocious, and TTs are mostly 10-furlong and up horses.
The distributions of the genes are about the same in the elite and non-elite groups, so Equinome does not claim to test for the class of the animal, just the distance capacity.
What does this mean for those of us who make our livings looking at horses and/or analyzing pedigrees? Not as much as you might first think...at least not if the market responds rationally (perhaps too much to hope for in an irrational business). The important point is that the test has nothing to do with class, only probable distance capacity. I don't know about you, but I think I generally have a pretty good idea of the probable distance capacity of a prospective foal from a mating I recommend. The test would give breeders more information on the prospective sire and dam and the statistical probabilities of the outcome. It is obvious from the data, that in the contemporary, commercial Thoroughbred world, the most desirable combination is CT. And if you mate two CCs or two TTs, you're not going to get any CTs.
It is also obvious, however, that the only way to guarantee you get all CTs is to breed a CC to a TT. In racing mythology, this is what is familiarly known as a "fish and fowl mating", and it is just about as far out of favor as it could get, and for good reason. For instance, if one bred a 2 1/2 mile Ascot Gold Cup winning sire (Yeats, for example) to a filly winner of the 6-furlong Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (Informed Decision, for example), what would you expect to get? The perfect 10-furlong horse? Well, no. History and practice have shown far too often that this simply does not work well, and it is very rarely attempted these days, even taking into account the fact that Gold Cup winners get virtually no chance at stud nowadays.
If you breed CTs to CTs (the most obvious and common tactic), you're going to get 25% CCs, 50% CTs and 25% TTs. That matches up extraordinarily well with what happens in the real world when you breed an 8-10 furlong sire to an 8-10 furlong mare. You'll get a few fast horses that can't stay, a good number of middle-distance types, and a few slow ones that can gallop forever.
The market response to this test is going to be very interesting indeed. The test is a bit pricey at 1,000 euros (about $1,400 currently) per sample (according to the terms of service on the website), but then if you're pondering spending $1-million on a yearling or even $100,000 on a stud fee, what's $1400? The more interesting question for the prospective racehorse market is....exactly who is going to buy the test?
The problem for yearling or juvenile buyers is that, according to the website, the test takes three weeks, so you can't look at a horse at the yearling sale, obtain a blood sample (and of course obtaining the seller's permission to do so), get it tested, and buy the horse the next day. That means that the real market may actually be the sellers of yearlings and two-year-olds, not the buyers. And if you were selling ten yearlings, would you really want to tell buyers that five of them are CTs, three CCs, and two TTs? I doubt many will, though I can envision an environment where all essentially are forced to do so should a prestigious breeder begin the practice, just as they are now forced to put damning radiographs in repositories. On the American market at least, those two TTs would be just about guaranteed to be no bids, no matter how handsome they might be. Once the horse is bought, of course, then the buyer has plenty of time to find out just what type of horse he has acquired. It seems to me the likelihood of both buyers and sellers utilizing the test is higher in the juvenile market, where horses are breezing well ahead of the sale and both sides have more time to consider their options.
I plan on interviewing Emmeline Hill on behalf of Thoroughbred Times on Thursday, so check into Thoroughbred Times Today and the Thoroughbred Times website for excerpts and into the weekly print issue for the full interview.