PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF SCIENCE

The first equus caballus ever cloned was in 2003 and prominent sport-horse competitors have zealously exploited the technology.

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The breeding of Thoroughbred racehorses is mandated to be by natural cover if the foal is eligible to be registered…and that has always been the case.  Whereas Standardbred and Quarter Horse registries allow for artificial insemination, Thoroughbred registries around the world do not.

Some participants in the sport of polo have gone much further, as highlighted in a March 11, 2018, segment on CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes.  Correspondent Lesley Stahl traveled to Argentina and Texas for the story.

The world’s best polo player for the past 22 years, Adolpho Cambiaso, teamed up with Texan Alan Meeker to clone outstanding polo ponies, such as Cambiaso’s ill-fated stallion Aiken Cura, who was humanely destroyed after breaking his leg in a 2006 polo match.  Before Aiken Cura was euthanized, Cambiaso had a veterinarian extract some of the stallion’s cells for cloning.

Cambiaso’s 17-year-old retired mare Cuartetera is widely hailed as the best polo pony of all time,  So far, Cambiaso and Meeker have fourteen clones of her with ten more planned for 2018 and the same number in 2019.  The clones are sequentially named Cuartetera 01, Cuartetera 02, and so on.  All have been born to surrogate mares.

The clones are very similar to the original Cuartetera in appearance, athletic ability, and disposition.  They have no special health problems and the infant mortality rate for cloned horses is only slightly higher than for foals born via natural breeding.

In the final match at the 2017 Argentine Open, members of the winning Cambiaso team all rode clones while their opponents were mounted on naturally bred ponies.  Cambiaso scored the winning goal in the sudden-death climax aboard Cuartetera 06.  Stahl raised the issue of whether Cambiaso had an unfair advantage in that every pony available to his team was a clone of the great Cuartetera?

Cambiaso’s business partner Meeker was asked about religious and moral objections to cloning.  He replied that he disagreed with human cloning but added:  “I’ve been asked by some of the wealthiest people on planet earth to clone a human being…and the answer is always a resounding ‘no.'”  Meeker predicted that someone will eventually take this controversial and troubling step…though he would not be the one to do so.

It is highly likely that Thoroughbred registries will continue to adhere to the natural method of contraception if for no other reason than to protect stallion fees.  Meanwhile, other sport-horse registries will persist with artificial insemination, embryo transplants, and, in many cases, cloning.

Despite concerns about the ethics and possible unintended consequences of animal cloning, I do wonder how, say, Secretariat 02 and 03 would do racing against one another and Man o’ War 07 in a future Kentucky Derby or Belmont.  And if we want to get into the Twilight Zone and an ethical/moral quagmire, how about if they were ridden by Ron Turcotte 02, Ron Turcotte 03, and Clarence Kummer 02.

While this scenario is farfetched and perhaps scary, it is nonetheless within the capabilities of extant science and technology rather than in the more comforting domain of science fiction.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

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