The Irish company behind Galileo Gold’s shock Derby dodge

9 May 2016

The 2015 Epsom Derby, via Wikimedia Commons

An Irish equine nutrition company is part of the reason why 2,000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold was surprisingly pulled from next month’s Epsom Derby, after a DNA test found the distance ‘not optimal’ for the horse.

At the end of April, Galileo Gold won the historic one-mile 2,000 Guineas, one of the most famous flat races in the world. Piloted by Frankie Dettori, Galileo Gold was expected to go on and race in the similarly famous one-and-a-half mile Epsom Derby on 4 June.

However, over the weekend, news emerged that, due to a DNA test, it would not attend the meet, catching many punters off guard. The science behind the decision, though, is remarkable, and Irish.

The Equinome Speed Gene Test was developed by UCD spinout Equinome, which was bought by nutrition company Plusvital late last year. For Galileo Gold, the findings from the test gave it what’s called a C:C genome result, which means its optimum race length is just a mile, according to the company.

The results are based on around 1,000 racehorses tested to date, with less than 1pc with Galileo Gold’s genome grade able to perform optimally at the Derby length of one-and-a-half miles. This was enough for trainer Hugo Palmer to withdraw the horse, something Plusvital COO Donal Ryan lauded as a “fantastic endorsement” of his company’s science.

“We firmly believe that equine genetics will enhance the thoroughbred breed by allowing owners and trainers to understand more about how to get the absolute best out of each individual horse for both racing and breeding,” he said.

Equinome was co-founded by Dr Emmeline Hill (an equine genomics researcher in UCD) and horse trainer Jim Bolger back in 2009, with the gene test coming the following year as a way to establish optimum race distance for tThoroughbred horses.

Since then, more than 20 scientific publications, including studies by separate independent international research groups in the US, Italy and Japan, have added to this study and investigated the effectiveness of the gene test in other horse breeds.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic