OTTBs to play part in new DNA test to identify racehorse fracture risk

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Dr Debbie Guest collects a DNA swab from Barbers Shop, who is owned by Queen Elizabeth II. 
Dr Debbie Guest collects a DNA swab from Barbers Shop, who is owned by Queen Elizabeth II. © Sue Robb

Racehorses who retired sound are being DNA tested to help develop a new test to identify thoroughbreds with an increased risk of fracture.

Scientists from the Animal Health Trust’s (AHT) Equine Genetics Team recently established that there is a link between DNA and the likelihood of fracture in racehorses.

Dr Debbie Guest, Head of Stem Cell Research at AHT in Newmarket, is developing the DNA test, which is expected to provide a breakthrough in managing the risks associated with fracture in racehorses.

“Our goal is to reduce the number of fractures sustained by racehorses both on and off the track,” Guest said.

“At present 11% of horses in training will sustain a fracture during their career. By finding out early on that a horse has a higher risk of fracture, it enables people to have a better understanding of how to manage the horse and prevent a fracture occurring.”

To validate the new test, the AHT is testing both a control group of horses who finished their racing careers sound, and horses who sustained fractures whilst in racing. The aim is to test a total of about 250 horses in each group.

As part of the control group, former top racehorse and leading show horse, The Queen’s Barbers Shop, had a DNA swab taken last week. Rider Katie Jerram-Hunnable said: “We were delighted that Barbers Shop could take part in such valuable research. This new test will be brilliant for the future of British thoroughbreds.”

Guest and her team will be attending qualifiers for the SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse finals this year including those at Bury Farm, Vale View and the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. The team will be taking DNA swabs from horses with owners wishing to participate in the research.

SEIB Insurance Brokers Marketing Manager Nicolina Mackenzie said the company was thrilled to be supporting the valuable research.

“SEIB set up the Racehorse to Riding Horse series to help ex-racehorses lead better lives and we take anything we can do to support the ongoing welfare of thoroughbreds very seriously. It takes moments to have a DNA swab taken and we anticipate that many Racehorse to Riding Horse competitors will be keen to take part,” she said.

Guest said in the past 10 years the level of equine fatalities on the racecourse has remained constant, despite changes made by the British Horseracing Authority, including decreasing the number of runners in some races and changing fence profiles.

“We now need to look at the biological factors and why some horses are predisposed to fracture,” she said.

This new DNA test has already been supported by the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre, the British Racing School and the Greatwood Horse Charity.

Those wishing to take part in the development by having their horse swabbed should contact Dr Debbie Guest: Debbie.guest@aht.org.uk.

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