'Speed gene' find may tilt odds in racing


BETTING ON the ponies may never be the same after the discovery of a “speed gene” in thoroughbred horses. It allows the owner to know whether the horse is more likely to win the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby or the St Leger.

University College Dublin scientist Dr Emmeline Hill made the breakthrough in horse genetics, which she believes will transform the global bloodstock industry.

Details of her research were published online yesterday in the journal PLoS ONE. She has already moved to patent the discovery however and set up a company, Equinome, last year to offer the gene-testing service.

Dr Hill is developing Equinome with Irish trainer and breeder Jim Bolger. The company is based at NovaUCD, the college’s technology transfer centre.

It offers testing services to owners, breeders and trainers who will be able to make more informed judgments about the merits of a given thoroughbred in specific races, said Dr Hill.

She was looking at a gene linked to muscle development and found there were several versions. “There are three gene types and they are predictive of the type of race the horse is best suited to,” Dr Hill said.

Horses best over short distances, like the mile-long 2,000 Guineas had the “cc” version, while those best over middle distances like the 1 mile four furlong Epsom Derby had the “ct” version. Long-distance horses suited to the one mile six furlong St Leger Stakes and longer races had the “tt” version.

Dr Hill plans to launch the test formally during the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Expo at Goffs, Kill, Co Kildare at the end of the month.

She has her own “form”, so to speak. Her grandmother Charmian Hill was the owner of the famous Dawn Run, the only racehorse to complete the Cheltenham Hurdle and the Gold Cup double.