They clone horses, don't they?

2 minute read

"Horse racing editor" Mike Brunker checks in with an excellent MSNBC article on cloning in the horse racing world. Racing officials are, so far, against it, but cloning solves a number of problems for owners and breeders.

Not least, what do you do when a gelding becomes a champion?

Among the cloned horses is Clayton, the 14-month-old son of the legendary quarter horse Scamper, a gelding. Scamper won a record 10 consecutive barrel racing world championships from 1984 to 1993 in events sponsored by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and is the only barrel-racing horse to be inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. He also helped make his rider, Charmayne James, the first million-dollar cowgirl and the all-time leading money winner in barrel racing.
[Co-owner Tony] Garritano said he and James paid $150,000 to ViaGen, an Austin, Texas, firm that is a leader in the commercial applications of cloning, to restore the otherwise extinct bloodlines of Scamper. Scamper, while still in good health at 30, can't be bred because he was gelded at an early age.

I suppose that's a sinking feeling -- you've got a 10-time world champion quarter horse, and you can't breed him. And of course, castration may not be merely incidental -- it may have affected the performance -- so you can't just say never geld the horse. Particularly with utility horses, you may never have the idea you are going to breed one, but then he turns out to be a champion.

"Carrying on bloodlines" seems to be one of the main appeals of cloning. The article describes how owners stop racing their champion thoroughbreds at 3 years old, just to put them out to stud, because that's where the money is. Perversely, they are breeding for a particular kind of early performance, which has effects on training and life histories of the animals.

Critics have silly arguments. For example, "How much fun would it be to watch a basketball game with 10 Michael Jordans?" Well, if you didn't want to at least maintain the fiction that every team is nearly equally competitive, you wouldn't have an NBA draft! For horses, since the point of racing is to get to the finish line fastest, you're not really promoting phenotypic diversity now, are you?

What I didn't know is that there are cloned mules in competition:

An estimated 1,000 people turned out on June 5, 2006, to watch two cloned mules compete in the Humboldt Futurity in Winnemucca, Nev., a contest that was billed as the first race between cloned animals. One of the clones -- Idaho Gem -- finished third while his identical twin, Idaho Star, finished seventh in the field of eight.

Heck, I didn't even know there was mule racing!

[T]he third mule, Utah Pioneer, never kicked it in.
"He went into race training, but the feeling was that he just wasn't going to cut it as a racing mule," Vanderwall said. "He has returned to the university campus and is just hanging out."

Uhhh...ummm... Oh, never mind.

Meanwhile, the thoroughbreeders are dead-set against (it seems they profit too much on the current system, where your horse has 2 years to make good, and if not, you come back for more sperm), and the quarter-horse breeders are trying to find ways around the current ban (they run their horses for many years, have more of a feeder system in the utility horse market, and have non-regulated events of various kinds where they might run a cloned horse).

What interesting politics!