As expected, Emmeline Hill, PhD., et.al., published her study on the relationship of specific gene alleles to maximum win distance today at the PLos1 online journal. If you prefer not to slog your way through all the scientific jargon of academe, you can read the commercial version of the results at Equinome, the website of the company founded by Hill and trainer Jim Bolger to market the test based on Hill's research. The core findings are embodied in this page from the website.
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.
The Horse Racing blog has moved
2 years ago