Monday, September 25, 2006

Extreme Inbreeding of Racehorses Leads to Claims That Thoroughbreds Too Inbred To Race: Injuries Cause Healthy Racehorses to Be Slaughtered For Meat

A good, analytical article that backs up the following disturbing truths:

Healthy racehorses are being slaughtered for meat because of extreme inbreeding.

Thoroughbreds are being drawn from such a narrow gene pool that two-thirds are too fragile to start racing, and a large number of those that do race die of injuries, the report states.

One recent study found that all the world’s estimated half-million racehorses are descended from just 28 stallions imported to Britain three centuries ago.

Three of these horses, Darley Arabian, Byerley Turk and Godolphin Barb, contributed more than 80% of the gene pool of modern thoroughbreds.
Article:

Horses 'too inbred' to race


http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2372448,00.html

Jonathan Leake and Jon Kirk

HEALTHY racehorses are being slaughtered for meat because of extreme inbreeding, according to Animal Aid, a campaigning group.

Thoroughbreds are being drawn from such a narrow gene pool that two-thirds are too fragile to start racing, and a large number of those that do race die of injuries, the report states.

Independent evidence of the high attrition rate has been found in a Cambridge University study, which shows that of 1,022 thoroughbred foals born around Newmarket in 1999, only 347 were ever entered for a race.

The study, by the university’s equine fertility unit found that of those, only 78 (17%) earned more than £10,000 in prize money, indicating a serious oversupply.

Such findings underline long-standing warnings within the industry that racehorses may have reached their physiological peak or even be declining. Critics point out that the times taken to complete classic races have barely improved in 80 years.

The Animal Aid study suggests the rate of inbreeding is accelerating. Research by Patrick Cunningham, professor of animal genetics at Trinity College, Dublin, shows that the proportion of genes shared by any two thoroughbreds has risen from 31% two centuries ago to about 47% now — a level far higher than in other horse breeds.

One recent study found that all the world’s estimated half-million racehorses are descended from just 28 stallions imported to Britain three centuries ago.

Three of these horses, Darley Arabian, Byerley Turk and Godolphin Barb, contributed more than 80% of the gene pool of modern thoroughbreds.

Among current breeding stock, Northern Dancer, a North American flat racing champion in the 1960s, has been particularly influential. He produced more than 120 sons, and his grandson, Storm Cat, is the world’s most expensive sire, with a mating fee of around £300,000. The Green Monkey, a great-grandson, sold for £10m earlier this year.

Dene Stansall, author of the Animal Aid report, claims that jump racing has begun to switch from using robust horses bred for the discipline, to cast-offs from flat racing and this was a factor in the death of nine horses at the Cheltenham festival, held last March.

Another study, by the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, which is due for publication shortly, will show a strong association between certain genes found in many racehorses, and the risk of limb fractures.

Ernie Bailey, of the Gluck Equine Research Center at Kentucky University said: “There is a concern that selection for speed has caused an inadvertent selection for fragility.”

However, he played down suggestions that the industry had reached a crisis point. “Thoroughbred breeders are not producing inbred monsters. These horses still have considerable genetic diversity.”

According to James Gray, president of the Association of British Riding Schools, most of the 4,000-5,000 horses withdrawn from racing because of injury or failure on the track are slaughtered to be sold as horsemeat in France and Belgium.

Peter Webbon, chief executive of the Horseracing Regulatory Authority, said he did not accept the Animal Aid report. “No one wants to lose horses or see injuries,” he said.

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