There are periodic mutterings about the discovery of a “speed gene” for Thoroughbreds, but on the whole, horse racing takes what is now a refreshingly old-fashioned approach to horse breeding: no artificial insemination, no embryo transfer and absolutely no cloning. The sire and dam actually have to meet in person, as it were, and the mares can only have one foal a year, and the stallions a restricted amount.
News that polo is breaking into cloning comes via the Guardian:
Cambiaso, widely considered the world’s best player, has teamed up with a US laboratory, Crestview Genetics, to preserve and replicate the genes of renowned horses. A clone of Cuartetera, a mare, fetched $800,000 (£490,000) at a Buenos Aires auction last year.
“Throughout the sport everybody’s talking about what’s going to happen with cloning. There is a big internal debate,” Guillermo Buchanan, the president of the veterinary commission of the Argentinian Association of Polo Pony Breeders told BBC Mundo this week.
“We look at all ways to artificially reproduce and genetically improve. But in this case we are dealing with copying an animal and now we are looking at how to regulate that,” he added.
Top polo horses are routinely castrated and so cannot breed. The high price fetched by Cuartetara’s clone grabbed the attention of other players and breeders who see potential huge profits, and stellar performances, in replicated thoroughbreds.
Imagine a string of cloned polo ponies for a single team…
The clone of top showjumper Gem Twist is now a three-year-old, and I’m sure there are more clones on the way wherever money is thickest in the horse world, although I’m not convinced that mere genes alone create a top competitor. I also rather mourn the days when a horse like Pat Smythe’s Finality could sweep all before her, despite being the result of an unplanned liaison between the milkman’s mare and a passing stallion.
Horses do not clone themselves in nature, of course, but they do occasionally throw up a chimera: an animal with two DNA types. The brindle quarter horse stallion, Dunbar’s Gold, is one example. Read more about him here, or sign up to The Horse for a two-part detailed article.