What Makes a Winner – The DNA of Champions

It is well known that genes are responsible for most of the traits in all living beings. Of course external conditions have their due influence on the development and overall well being, but we have long determined that good genes will very likely produce good offspring. Ever since the first domesticated wolf we have also learned how to cash in on this knowledge. And cash is plenty in the world of horseracing. Champion blood foals regularly sell for well over $1 million. That’s why the first thing that is being prized when selecting a racehorse is the genetic pool it sprung from.

Thoroughbreds are the most used breed of horses for racing, and for a good reason. These horses have been specifically bred for speed and stamina. It started in the 17th century with the growing interest of British aristocracy in horseracing, and today all Thoroughbreds can be traced back to 74 British and imported mares, known as the Royal Mares, and only three stallions of Arab, Barb and Turk origin, the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Barb. And thus began an official record – the General Stud Book – which lists only those horses that can be traced back to the Royal Mares and these three stallions.

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Thoroughbreds’ anatomy makes them the perfect racing horse. Preferred, quality Thoroughbreds have long necks, deep and broad chest, short backs, lean bodies and long legs. They are classified as a hot-blooded breed, meaning they are very agile, fast, spirited and bold. Not so long ago the only way to assure these traits in a horse was heavy inbreeding, but in 2010 Dr. Emmeline Hill managed to isolate the single gene responsible for muscle development and muscle fibre type, now popularly known as the speed gene.

Experiments in equine genetics have shown that it is possible to breed a horse with more muscle mass capable for short bursts of speed suited for quarter mile races or a leaner horse that could perform better on longer courses such as the Derby. Even with these advancements in equine genetics scientists agree that DNA probably accounts for 30 – 35% of a horse’s performance. Come race day training, nutrition, jockeys and track conditions could prove more important for the outcome. Still, 35% is a lot you can bet on.

Racehorse breeding is the most tightly controlled and regulated animal breeding program. And the reason why, as we said, is because there is a lot of money in horseracing. It is an industry with revenue of $4 billion in US alone, $139.2 million were wagered on the Kentucky Derby last year, more than $10 billion are wagered in US each year. In horse racing crazed Japan that number is more than $24 billion. A big chunk of these billions come from online betting. Placing a bet is possible on many sites, fast and safe; you can also get good tips on how to pick your winner. It’s easy now that you know what makes one.