Racehorse DNA expert SCU Associate Professor Allan Davie (left) with stablehand Ian Crawford and racehorse Egyptian Bay.
Racehorse DNA expert SCU Associate Professor Allan Davie (left) with stablehand Ian Crawford and racehorse Egyptian Bay. David Nielsen

Study grant jumps first hurdle

THE art of breeding racehorses could be fine tuned to near perfection if a Southern Cross University research project is successful.

A research team, led by Associate Professor Allan Davie, has just been awarded an Australia-China International Science Linkages research grant of almost $120,000 to undertake the studies.

The study will look into the genetic makeup of thoroughbreds and attempt to draw links between genetic makeup and performance.

Researchers hope their findings will help breeders, owners and trainers identify the most effective way to breed from or race their horse.

While it is already known that high aerobic power provides the foundation for elite racing performance in horses – as in humans – the new study will dig deeper into the mitochondria (the energy component of the cell) in the hope of identifying a link between the cell makeup and horse performance.

Dr Davie – a resident lecturer at SCU – will be assisted by fellow SCU researchers Professor Shi Zhou and Dr Toni Pacey, and Chinese professors from the Tianjin University of Sport and Beijing Institute of Genomics who have been doing a similar study, but with humans instead of horses.

Dr Davie has a background in horses, having written extensively on the science of training methods and hopes his findings will be embraced by the industry.

“The horse racing industry is a billion dollar industry impacting on the Australian economy,” he said.

“There were more than 11,000 breeders registered who were responsible for 18,000 foals in the year 2000, so finding a more effective way of selecting and training potential elite performers based on genetic markers is on the agenda of breeders and scientists.”

The current understanding is that mitochondrial DNA is only carried in the maternal line which is transferred from mothers to offspring in mammals; therefore the project can focus on variations in mitochondrial DNA in mares and how those variations relate to the performance of offspring.

Dr Davie and his team have taken the first step in the process by gathering samples from a variety of horses in Australia which have been sent to China for analysis.

Now Dr Davie is waiting on a green light to travel to Ireland and undertake a similar process.

“Ireland is where the thoroughbred family tree started. So the aim is to get over there and take samples from some of the great racehorse families,” he said.

The study could potentially have a raft of effects on the racing industry with science overtaking art as the means for breed selection and race programming.

WHAT WOULD YOU USE A RESEARCH GRANT TO STUDY?

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