New gene test to pick elite thoroughbreds

July 20, 2011

A new genetic test has been announced to identify individual thoroughbreds with the greatest genetic potential for racecourse success.

Dr Emmeline Hill, co-founder of Equinome
The test was announced by Irish genomics company Equinome.

This latest development follows the launch in 2010 of Equinome's first test - the speed gene test.

This test resulted from the world's first known characterisation of a gene related to an athletic trait in the thoroughbred. The company has since secured clients in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Britain, France, Russia and Singapore.

Using the results of its new elite performance test, thoroughbred horse owners and breeders can increase their chances of successfully identifying those foals and yearlings most likely to perform at the elite level, the company says.

While management and training of thoroughbreds also influence racing outcomes, several scientific studies have shown that a considerable portion of the variation in racing performance is due to genes.

Thoroughbred breeders have known this for centuries, as breeding is predicated on the understanding that certain traits are inherited.

The new test uses state-of-the-art genomics technologies to examine panels of DNA variants that have been identified as being critical to racing performance.

Different sets of genes are used to distinguish between elite performers and poor performers, depending on whether the individual horse is suited to short, middle or long-distance races.

This information provides owners and breeders with valuable knowledge about the inherited genetic contribution to the racing ability of their horses.

The test is based on research carried out by Dr Emmeline Hill and her research group at University College Dublin's School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine.

Equinome, a university spin-out company, was established in 2009 by Hill in partnership with Jim Bolger, a well-known Irish racehorse trainer and breeder.

Hill said that the use of both gene tests enables the optimum racing distance for an individual racehorse to be identified and evaluate its potential for elite performance at that race distance.

"This has been enabled by the rapid developments in genome sequencing and the highly advanced genomics technologies that are now available for the horse," she said.

She added: "It is well-established that there are different metabolic and physiological requirements for short-duration, high-intensity sprint type exercise and longer-duration, more moderate intensity exercise.

"We have determined that, similarly, the genetic requirements differ for contrasting types of exercise and therefore different sets of genes will contribute to elite performance in each type of thoroughbred.

"A one-test-fits-all approach doesn't seem to be appropriate."

Equinome researchers, in collaboration with other scientists at the university, have published more scientific papers on thoroughbred exercise genomics than any other research group worldwide.

Through its associations with top-class breeders and trainers, the company has access to large numbers of elite horses at various stages of training and competition that provide subjects for its ongoing research programme.