This article, entitled The Benefits of Genetic Testing for Horses in Training, was originally published in the Paulick Report on 4th October 2019.[vc_single_image image=”11647″ img_size=”1000×667″ alignment=”center”]Without a doubt, the successful training of Thoroughbred racehorses is a complicated process, which includes the formidable task of selecting a suitable race for each horse. While the conventional methods of doing so are well understood augmenting them with the support of genetic testing can ensure that each horse is given the best opportunity to succeed.
While environmental factors contribute to 60% of a racehorse’s success, the other 40% is genetics. Knowing the genetic make-up of your horses in training can enhance your racing program by ensuring that the horse starts with a suitable training regime and is directed towards the most appropriate races more quickly than by conventional methods.
It is important to note that, because it is possible for full siblings to inherit completely different genes, pedigree alone cannot provide the same level of information as genetic testing. Typically, despite having all the non-genetic information at their fingertips, experienced trainers will incorrectly guess the genetic result of their racehorses between 20% to 25% of the time.
When training racehorses, a crucial task for the trainer is to select the races for each horse that give them the best chance of winning, while maximizing the prize money won. The trainer traditionally bases this decision on a range of factors, including their knowledge of the individual horse’s pedigree, form in previous races, an assessment of progress in training and feedback from the jockey riding the horse each day about its performance on the gallops.
However, trainers are increasingly also utilizing information found within the very DNA of the horse to assist them in their decision-making.
The rationale for this is simple. Ultimately, the performance of the horse is a combination of genetics and the environment (i.e. everything else). While a trainer can control much of the environment, including how the horse is trained, the DNA of the horse cannot be changed. Furthermore, the genetic make-up of a horse has been shown to have a significant impact on performance. Therefore, it makes sense to gather as much information as possible about the unique genetic composition of a horse.
Several genetic tests are now available to trainers worldwide that assess the DNA of a horse to provide particularly useful information such as predicted optimum race distance and optimum race surface.
The most popular of these genetic tests for trainers is the Speed Gene Test, which examines changes in the Myostatin gene (or ‘Speed Gene’) to determine a horse’s optimum race distance and precocity potential. This gene is also responsible for the rate of development of skeletal muscle, as well as the exact proportions of different muscle fiber types (fast twitch or slow twitch) within the skeletal muscle of an individual Thoroughbred racehorse.
The Speed Gene Test categorizes horses as one of three distinct Speed Gene types:
– C:C type: Suited to sprint distances, best trained and raced at less than 8f
– C:T type: Suited to middle distances, best trained and raced between 6f to 10f
– T:T type: Suited to staying distances, best trained and raced at greater than 8f
Multiple scientific studies from a variety of different research groups have demonstrated a clear relationship between a horse’s Speed Gene type and the distance at which they win their best race. Therefore, the Speed Gene Test acts as an extra tool on top of more traditional methods to assist trainers in choosing the most suitable race distances for their horses, and in turn, increasing the potential for improved winning returns.
It is also possible to further refine the recommended distances that the Speed Gene Test provides by analyzing additional genes contributing to a horse’s optimal race distance with the Distance Plus Test. This genetic test examines a complex arrangement of genetic markers in the horse’s DNA (approximately 50,000) to further refine a horse’s best race distance to within a couple of furlongs.
A horse’s Speed Gene type is then sub-categorized into either ‘Short’ or ‘Long’, thereby refining the initial Speed Gene Test result. For example, a C:T type horse would have a recommended optimum race distance of between six to 10 furlongs as part of their Speed Gene Test result, but a horse categorized as C:T Long would have a more defined optimum race distance of eight to 10 furlongs.
One additional genetic test at a trainer’s disposal for race selection is the Dirt vs. Turf Test, which identifies a horse’s genetic preference for training and racing on either dirt or turf surfaces. As with some other genetic tests, this trait can often be worked out by a trainer based on pedigree or trial and error through racing individual horses on one or both of the surfaces and subsequently assessing how they performed. However, pedigree may not always be the best indicator of a horse’s surface preference type, as it is well known that some stallion’s progeny vary in their surface preference.
Availing of the Dirt vs. Turf Test not only allows for the early selection of the best surface for a horse, which can increase earnings, but importantly reduces the number of races wasted trying to identify the most suitable surface and therefore can contribute to help prevent injuries sustained on the track and increased horse welfare.
Learn more about Plusvital genetic tests for Horses in Training here.