There was some coverage in the Irish media last week of the cloning of former top showjumper Cruising http://www.irishexaminer.com/sport/other-sports/mary-mccann-confirms-she-has-two-cruising-clones-312555.html .
The owners are not acting outside the rules of the sport made by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) or of the Irish sports horse stud book but I don’t think either of those bodies can fully know the impact that cloning will have on that sport. When it comes to horse racing we will hopefully never allow cloning or it will utterly destroy the sport.
What’s wrong with cloning?
1. Cloning is not about looking to breed an improved racehorse, it is about recreating an existing top class horse. It is about sameness and predictability and the elimination of risk. It is about replacing the old maxim of ‘breeding the best to the best and hope for the best’ with a new maxim of ‘clone the best’. However it is the uncertainty of breeding that underpins the industry, if cloning was to become commonplace it would kill the industry it seeks to improve. Why get involved in the genetic lottery of current breeding? Who would use current stallions, the best of whom struggle to get 10% stakes winners when you can produce a horse guaranteed to be of similar genetic ability to a past champion? With uncertainty there also exists hope and it is this hope that totally underpins the entire breeding industry and ensures that most foals will eventually find a buyer. Who would gamble on a modestly bred foal when they could buy a clone of Frankel? The breeding industry as we know it would collapse.
2. Horse racing is dependent on gambling for its survival. We don’t know the relative merits of horses until they are tried against each other under different conditions. With clones much of that uncertainty is removed as we already have a much better idea of horses maximum abilities, optimum trips and going preferences. There would initially be great interest in running a decade of cloned Derby winners against each other but ultimately we would have a much less diverse sport with the same clones running against each other after the question of the ultimate horse has been decided and the clones of same being the only logical choice for breeders. Once horse racing becomes too predictable its attractiveness to the public will fade.
Scientific breakthroughs are chipping away at the fundamentals of the sport. Genetic testing such as those offered by equinome.com are still in their infancy but in time will certainly improve to a predictive accuracy that outstrips any of us self-appointed pedigree or bloodstock ‘experts’. I am certain that artificial insemination (AI) will be allowed for thoroughbreds within the next two decades given its advantages in disease control. By itself AI is not a threat to the fundamentals of the sport once some measures such as the destruction of straws within an agreed period following the death of the stallion are implemented. Cloning is a completely different prospect and to my mind it was a mistake to allow it in showjumping and it would be a catastrophe for horse racing.