Breeding for durability comes under the microscope

Dr Natasha Hamilton. Photo: University of Sydney
Dr Natasha Hamilton. Photo: University of Sydney

Durability could be improved in racehorses through selective breeding, according to an Australian researcher.

Much research in recent years has focused on performance, but now researchers have started delving into the complex traits that make up durability. These traits can have a telling influence on issues such as career length, susceptibility to potentially career-ending diseases, and fracture risk.

“We have established that these durability traits have a low but significant heritability, indicating that horses’ racing careers could be improved through selective breeding,” said Dr Natasha Hamilton, a senior lecturer from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney.

“This knowledge could be applied in the future to improve the overall health, soundness and therefore welfare of the racehorse population.”

Fresh research in the field was unveiled this week during a Sydney Science Forum talk, Galloping Genes.

It focused on the genetics of durability – or how sound a horse is – including factors such as career length and number of races.

The work, supported by Racing Australia, has involved analysis of racing and pedigree records spanning 10 years from 164,000 Australian racehorses.

Hamilton said that although studies had shown genetics accounted for about a third of a horse’s performance, DNA analysis could do much more than just identify odds on winning a race.

“We are learning more about the influence of genes not only underlying racing performance and disease, but also about health-related traits such as risk of fracture.”

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