Plusvital shows form in Melbourne Cup win

Irish company’s speed-gene test used by trainer to identify Vow and Declare’s potential

Jockey Craig Williams (right) rides Vow and Declare to victory in the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday19. Photograph: Scott Barbour/AAP Image via AP

Jockey Craig Williams (right) rides Vow and Declare to victory in the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday19. Photograph: Scott Barbour/AAP Image via AP

 

When Vow and Declare passed the winning post at Melbourne this week, it wasn’t just a cause of celebration for his connections but also for a pioneering Irish company.

The four-year-old gelding was one of just two home-bred horses in the AUS$8 million Melbourne Cup – that country’s most-loved race – taking the title in a dramatic and controversial finish. It was a first win in the event for Australia’s champion jockey Craig Williams and a first home win for a decade.

All that was hardly visible in the stars when Paul Lanskey failed to find a buyer at auction for the two-year-old. Lanskey, the man who had bred him, decided to retain Vow and Declare with a syndicate of family and friends.

Fortuitously, they put him in training with local man Danny O’Brien. Among the tools he uses in trying to identify the best races for his horses is a speed-gene test developed by Irish equine science group Plusvital, which is backed by businessman Denis O’Brien – no relation to the horse’s trainer – among others.

The test analyses a thoroughbred’s DNA to establish the best distance at which it should race. Trainers use it to target races for particular horses and to adapt training regimes to suit.

Bloodstock industry breakthrough

It was developed 10 years ago by UCD equine genomics specialist Prof Emmeline Hill before being spun out into a company called Equinome, supported by top Irish trainer Jim Bolger. The business was subsequently taken over by Plusvital.

The speed gene was a breakthrough for a multimillion euro bloodstock industry that had previously relied mostly on pedigree. And that has paid off for Vow and Declare. Despite an inauspicious early racing career, the horse has now developed into a champion stayer, seeing out the 3,200m distance in Melbourne.

It might be Danny O’Brien’s first win in the Australian classic but not for Plusvital, which has now been used to test horses that went on to win six of the last 10 runnings of the Melbourne Cup. That’s winning form.

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