Edited Press Release
Research by scientists at the University College Dublin and Plusvital has established that there is a genetic contribution to whether a horse is likely to race and has identified genes associated with behaviour that may be key influencers. One of these genes, PRCP, has been dubbed the “motivator gene” by the researchers. The researchers acknowledged that previous studies have shown that less than half of Thoroughbred foals bred to race actually make it to the racecourse.
“Our study of 4,500 horses, some that raced and some that did not, has established a measurable genetic link to future racing potential and identified several genes of particular importance,” said Plusvital's Dr. Emmeline Hill. “The most important genes appear to be involved in neurological or behavioural traits. This is fascinating in the context of trainers' assessments that a horse's 'attitude' to their exercise regime is among the most important aspects to a positive outcome on the racetrack.”
“One of the genes, known as PRCP, has previously been shown to be associated with voluntary wheel running in mice. Our findings support the theory that, just as with humans, motivation to exercise may be a critical factor in maintaining a training regime and achieving a high level of fitness. Some horses are just naturally keener for their job than others.
In addition to establishing a genetic link, the scientists developed a new predictive test for determining the chances a Thoroughbred has of making a racecourse start in their 2- and 3-year-old racing seasons.
“The prediction model analyses the DNA of a horse and then categorises them as having a 'High', 'Medium' or 'Low' chance of making a racecourse start,” Hill said. “Horses categorised as 'High' are more likely to have a racecourse start, more likely to run in more races, more likely to have higher earnings but curiously do not have a significantly different sales price. This is therefore valuable information that even the most astute in the market currently cannot assess from the pedigree or by physical assessment of the horse.
“Of course, genetics cannot on its own replace the current tools. There are many other reasons a horse may not progress to race, through injury or the presence of performance-limiting disorders. But while there are veterinary screening tools for those, there is currently no other means to determine a young horse's motivation to exercise other than long-term observation, and by then it may be too late to get the best out of them.”