The Future of Pedigree Study in the Age of Genetics

The equine genome has been sequenced, and geneticists are starting to get a handle on how gene research might soon yield scientific reasons why one horse is faster than another.

That's the basis of the inaugural Thoroughbred Pedigree and Genetics Symposium held Oct. 11 in Lexington. The seminar, presented by The Blood-Horse and Pedigree Consultants, was a one-day event with several prominent speakers. For a recap of the day, read Genetic Research New Tool in Breeding.

It's about time that the Thoroughbred industry enters the scientific age. It's scandalous that leaders in our industry have avoided the topic of genetic research for so long. (And even today the pushback continues.) It's inexcusable we've lost decades in opportunity to better understand how the Thoroughbred athlete works.

I was pleased to see an overflow crowd at the event. Attending were everyone from the names you see in headlines every week down to the owners of two or three mares; veterinarians and research administrators; pedigree advisors; bloodstock consultants; trainers; and pundits and peers.

One important take-away message that I want to share is this: there is nothing coming that will eliminate the need for careful pedigree and conformation evaluation when selecting racing or breeding stock. 

In fact, the opposite might well be true.  If some of the existing research pans out and we identify specific "speed genes" or other markers that signify speed (and soundness and stamina, etc.), you can bet that before long all Thoroughbreds will be bred to embody those genetic attributes. 

So will we then have an entire breed of Secretariats?  No, not quite. 

We'll instead have a more homogenous breed with near-identical talents--but there will always be standouts that rise above their fellow runners. It will still be the responsibility of the breeder to identify mares with ideal conformation and to send them to the most fitting stallions, with bloodlines/aptitude/class to match. It will be an even greater asset in coming years for those purchasers of racing stock who are able to differentiate minute differences of potential from a more kindred pool.

The Thoroughbred researcher of the future--the individual with an understanding of the genetic underpinnings of the breed, combined with a nuanced knowledge of pedigree patterns and conformational evaluation--will continue to have a distinct advantage over his fellow horsemen. Pedigree study and conformation evaluation have always been an art. Genetic science should shape, not eliminate, the use of our art in the future.


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I didn't attend the symposium, but did read the pre and post articles. I look foreward to the transcript and/or dvd when available. With that said, I worry that early/infant equine genetic "revelations" could well do more harm than good to the breed. Often, many are far too quick to embrace what are percieved to be shortcuts in the road to producing or identifying the better racehorse. These same are usually ill equippped in background to properly evaluate the evidence or appreciate its potential ramifications. The identification of specific disease "markers" is obviously of great benefit and already has, to some extent, been a positive byproduct of the human genome project. Essentially certain knowledge such as this, however, can be derived far more easily than what is involved in creating the better equine athlete. The use of the equine genome "project" is very much in its infancy. We should view with skepticism any study which purports to offer us an advantage.    

18 Oct 2010 4:25 PM
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18 Oct 2010 8:49 PM
Pedigree Shelly

         I would have loved to attend this years Synposium but, It will definately be on my Top Ten list of things to accomplish for 2011 :)

18 Oct 2010 9:07 PM

Mother nature is a bit more complicated than finding the answer to a superior racehorse in one or two genes.

Even if it were that simple, things like cardio capacity, bone lengths, ligament and tendon attachments, temperament and the environment will have a much greater impact.

19 Oct 2010 7:07 AM
Michael V

Every breeding is a unique recombination of genetic material. All you can hope to do is improve the odds. That is why we dream isn't it? I would hate to see the day that breeding selections have become automatic, without luck being involved... we're a long, long way from there.

19 Oct 2010 10:38 AM

I'm no expert on genetics, but the long held idea of: "breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best" does hold true.

Why is it then that Thoroughbred breeders (and others) believe the FIRST option in a career change for an animal that has sustained an injury or has bad feet is to BREED IT based on pedigree and dollars?

One would think that if a proposed breeding stallion has bad feet that he may just pass that along, just as any defect or confirmation flaw would be passed along.

Humans have long bred various animals and made different breeds based on selecting certain qualities to be "fixed" in their new breed.  That is how the Morgan, Thoroughbred, Saddlebred, Standardbred and others came to be. Along with those qualities come certain undesirable traits and we go back and try and breed those out of the gene pool, by NOT using the animals that express those poor qualities.

If we focus on one breed, the Thoroughbred for example, ignoring the bad conformation, crooked legs, overshot and undershot mouths, poor feet, etc., are we not doing the breed as whole a dis-service all because a dollar can be made based on what-chance!?

Go back to basics, breed the best to the best and chances are the Thoroughbred will get better, or at the very least be a stronger, tougher and more durable animal, less prone to injury on the track and beyond.

19 Oct 2010 10:41 AM

  Beyond breed the best to the best and hope for the best there never was nor will there ever be any science to breeding"racing"horses.  Any "theory" to the contrary is just an attempt to sell something.  and remember commerce kills the soul....if you cloned 10,000 Somethingroyals and impregnated them all by Bold Ruler you'd never produce another Secretariat.

19 Oct 2010 2:38 PM


Statements such as yours no doubt appeal to, and resonate with the equally uninformed-much how the "Tea Party" attracts so many votes.

19 Oct 2010 4:21 PM

Being a fan of bull riding, and watching the finals last week from Vegas, one very particular note should be made that no less than THREE of the 15 Bulls that participated in the short-go ( Our Breeders Cup Classic equivelent) were clones of the bull Panhandle Slim! So, 1/4 of the best bulls in the world were actualy one and the same. A startling fact if equated to horse racing.

26 Oct 2010 10:32 AM

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