Studying Genetics Will Enhance Horse Racing

Everyone involved in the horse racing industry – whether it’s trainers, owners, jockeys – and even bookmakers and bettors should have an understanding of the race horse’s performance. Bookies use this data to offer realistic and generous horse racing odds today

How a horse performs depends on several factors including training, nutrition and pedigree. One of the factors to consider is genetics though – and this is something that is still not fully exploited in the gambling industry.

There have been several genetic pieces of research that have been undertaken in order to optimise the horse’s performance with the goal of identifying the genomic and genetic parameters which influence the horse’s performance. The aim is to establish a correlation between the examined gene and the performance of the horse under study.

About Horse Genetics

The study of genetics looks at the horse’s heredity.  It identifies hereditary characteristics of the horse and the transmission through the generations of horses. The idea is that researching the horse’s DNA and analysing the data could identify the overall potential of a racehorse. This could lead to breeding with the focus on producing foals with the best genes – leading to a better quality of horses – and thus races.

The Studies So Far

To date, numerous studies have been carried out, but none have successfully drawn reliable or accurate solutions. But research progresses quickly as does comprehension of genetics.

Research makes it possible to define the genetic index of the horse – which is its overall capacity to transfer its qualities to its foals. This can then help them to predict how valuable that horse will be as either a stallion or broodmare. They can then select the best breeding stock. This isn’t yet an exact science and work is still going into this.

There was also the discovery of the ‘Speed Gene’ in 2015. The isolation of this gene makes it possible to get an idea of which distance the horse will perform best at. It was discovered that more than 83% of horses with the C:C (Sprinter) ‘speed gene’ were best for distances of a mile or under. This is compared with 89% of horses that had the T:T (Stayer) ‘speed gene’ was better at distances over 1 mile.

Studies have shown that ’Myostatin’ is the genetic factor that has the biggest influence over the preferred race distance. The ‘SINE’ variant of Myostatin is only found in Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses and shows a strong ability to sprint. This study has been the most successful in determining genetic abilities for different distances to date.

What Can be Learned?

This research along with ongoing scientific studies can enhance horse racing immensely – by breeding better and stronger foals, understanding which horses are better for which distances and thus raising the game – which benefits everyone in the industry. Growing understanding means the better detection of future performers, understanding a horse’s natural sporting ability and will thus allow for the breeding of better sport horses.

However, so far these studies undertaken all have limitations – sample data is still relatively small – and the analysis of bigger numbers might be impractical and highly expensive. As such, in the near future, it’s not clear how much of an effect we can expect to have on the racing industry.

But the possibilities are exciting – as knowledge will always improve – which will, in turn, improve the sport. However, it still needs to be just one factor taken into consideration as studies have also shown that in thoroughbreds, just 30% of the performance level is down to genetics – there still needs to be attention on training and nutrition. Our understanding of horses and their performance levels have increased dramatically in recent years and will continue to do so. As we continue to study genetics and combine this with other external factors, the quality of horses will increase – as will the quality of races we get to experience.