How genetic testing of horses can pinpoint a Grand National winner

5 Apr 2013

Dr Emmeline Hill, a genomics scientist at UCD and co-founder, Equinome, with Donal Ryan, the company's managing director

Irish company Equinome believes it may be onto a winner with its speed gene test to help horse owners and breeders produce horses that are best suited to run in steeplechases such as the Grand National taking place tomorrow at Aintree in the UK. Equinome’s research will feature in the programme ‘How to Win the Grand National’ that will air on Channel 4 tonight.

Dr Emmeline Hill, a genomics scientist at University College Dublin (UCD), and the Irish horse trainer and breeder Jim Bolger founded Equinome in 2009.

The company was spawned as a result of research led by Hill in UCD’s School of Agriculture and Food Science.

Equinome has developed a speed gene test, which is now being used by certain circles in the global bloodstock and racing industry to identify the optimum racing distance for individual thoroughbred horses.

The company, which is headquartered at NovaUCD, has also pioneered an elite performance test for the thoroughbred market.

Equinome is now claiming to have come up with a new application for its speed gene test to allow trainers, owners and breeders to select or produce horses that are best suited to steeplechase races of three miles and greater, such as the Aintree Grand National.

For this research, the Equinome team collected and tested samples from 302 horses from five National Hunt training yards in Ireland.

All of the horses were tested with the Equinome speed gene test. They were categorised as either C:C genetic type (sprint horses), C:T (middle-distance horses) or T:T (staying-type horses).

Equinome’s research found that 61pc of the National Hunt horses surveyed fell into the T:T category, 35pc were C:T and the remaining 4pc were C:C.

Additional analysis showed that while the genetic type cannot be used to identify ‘stakes’ winners, T:T horses have a marginally better win strike rate than C:T horses.

However, a key finding of the study was that the 14 horses that had a best win distance of three miles or greater in a steeplechase race were all T:T horses.

“The results of this study show that if trainers or breeders want to have or produce a National Hunt horse to win a race, such as the Aintree Grand National or the Cheltenham Gold Cup, then their best chance is with a T:T horse,” explained Hill.

She added that National Hunt owners, breeders and trainers who want to test their horses can send blood samples to Equinome’s laboratories in Dublin to determine what variant their horses have.

Equinome’s latest research will feature in the programme How to Win the Grand National that will air tonight on Channel 4 at 8pm.

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Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic