Younger stallions better sire prospects for horse racing success, study finds


foal-800A university student’s thesis exploring paternal age in thoroughbred stallions and its relationship to siring winners has won a prestigious award for her work.

University of Limerick student Alison Brassil won the BETA Equine Thesis of the Year award for her dissertation titled The Effect of Paternal Age on Progeny Performance in Thoroughbreds.

The British Equestrian Trade Association competition was relaunched this year to put undergraduate study back into the spotlight, and the winner and runner-up were announced last week at a ceremony in Warwickshire.

Brassil joined three other finalists, Lucy Morgan of Harper Adams University, Anna Williams of the Royal Agricultural University and Tegan Hemingway-Wood of Moreton Morrell College, at Equestrian House, Abbey Park, Warwickshire, to present her thesis to the judging panel.

Brassil’s dissertation, which aimed to determine whether the proportion of successful progeny changes as stallion age increases, was unanimously declared the winner by judges Dr Georgina Crossman, Dr Pat Harris, Ruth Bishop and Lucy Higginson.

Using extensive amounts of data and focusing on 20 stallions and 26,650 progeny over a 25-year period, Alison’s research suggested that breeders could well benefit from breeding to younger stallions because age did appear to have a significant effect on all parameters of racing performance, with noticeable decreases occurring after 16 and continuing after 22 years. She also noted that the mechanism behind the effects of advanced paternal age was not clear and highlighted that this could be an interesting area for further research.

Alison Brassil being presented with her award for BETA Equine Thesis of the Year by judging panel chair Dr Pat Harris.
Alison Brassil being presented with her award for BETA Equine Thesis of the Year by judging panel chair Dr Pat Harris.

“I am absolutely delighted to win,” Brassil said. “The competition is great for students and the industry. I am passionate about racing and breeding in particular. I want to work in the Thoroughbred sector and, while I know that my study is just a scratch on the surface and there is still a lot of work to be done, I would like to think that people will find it interesting.”

The runner-up was Tegan Hemingway-Wood with her thesis The Effect of Water Depth on Equine Limb Swing Phase Kinematics During Walk Exercise on the AquaIcelander Water Treadmill.

“The standard of work has been extremely high, with presentations that took complex data and presented it in a way that was easy to understand,” said Dr Pat Harris, chair of the judging panel.

“We have examined the written thesis, the literature reviewed, the way that information was presented, the level of understanding and potential relevance to the industry, and felt that Alison and Tegan did very well in a number of these areas.”

The Equine Thesis of the Year award was relaunched after a three-year break. The academic initiative was originally developed by Pat Harris and Graham Suggett in the late 1990s and designed to reward the work of equestrian undergraduates.

Finalists in the competition were Lucy Morgan, whose thesis was Equitation Science in the Equine Industry – Horse Riders’ Understanding of the Learning Theory in Equine Training, and Anna Williams, whose study was titled The Effect of Soaking on the Populations of Acidic Bacteria Found on UK Meadow Hay – Possible Implication for Equine Gastric Ulceration.

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