A racehorses success lies in its genes

December 19th, 2007 - 2:55 pm ICT by admin  

London, Dec 19 (ANI): Whether a horse will be a winner or a loser on the racetrack depends on the kind of genes it has.

Evolutionary ecologists Alastair Wilson and Andrew Rambaut at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland conducted a new study, which showed that genetics play a significant role in whether a racehorse would win or loose.

However, the study has also indicated that a high stud fee might not assure getting the good genes: horse breeders don’t always get what they pay for.

Wilson and his colleague Rambaut took a detailed look at the genetics of racehorses. They obtained data for the lifetime earnings of 554 currently or recently active stallions used for breeding, as well as the earnings of their ancestors going back several generations.

This gave them a database of 4,476 horses going back to 1922, with full lifetime performance statistics for 2,500 of them. They used these data to model the estimated lifetime earnings of the children of the current studs.

It was found that environmental factors such as training, diet, strategic race entry and jockey skill accounted for 91.5 percent of the variation in a horse’s winnings and 8.5 percent of the effect was genetic.

8.5 percent may seem small, but for those of us studying the benefits generated by genetics in wild animals this is huge, Nature quoted Wilson, as saying.

Wilson said in the wild horses, where environmental conditions vary a lot and survival can depend on luck as much as anything else, genetics usually account for about 1-2 percent of survival rates. However, in the highly regulated environment of racehorses, where winning races is the main measure of success, genetics has a much bigger effect.

The researchers also wanted to find out if stud prices were indicative of genetics. These prices can vary wildly: mild-mannered stallions can cost hundreds of dollars, and stallions with grand reputations can cost millions.

They said that the stud price was not linked to the success of the offspring. Amongst these horses, paying a few hundred to breed a mare with an average racing stallion was as good as paying a few million.

We expected stud fees to be honest signals [of success] but they were not, Wilson said.

Larry Bramlage, an equine orthopaedic surgeon in Lexington Kentucky said that these findings might be skewed because they look at studs with a mix of ages. Some are so young that their stud price depends solely on their own success (which is largely the result of environmental effects that can’t be passed on to progeny), and some are old enough that their price is weighed entirely on the success of their offspring.

He noted that the latter is a much better measure of genetic quality, and most horse breeders know that.

If you took the stud fees of stallions that had been breeding for at least ten years, I think you would get a very different result, Bramlage said.

In such a sample, he thinks genetics would link to price.
Wilson said that this is a fair point and should be accounted for in future studies. (ANI)

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