Byline: Gary Mihoces
An animal cloning firm makes no claim that a clone of Thoroughbred legend Secretariat would replicate his greatness.
"You only know it would have the same genetic potential to run like Secretariat," says Blake Russell, vice president for ViaGen of Austin.
Thoroughbred breeder Dan Rosenberg, president of Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, says genetics aren't guarantees.
"There's an old adage: Mrs. Dempsey had seven sons; only one of them was Jack," Rosenberg says.
Meanwhile, Thoroughbred racing shows no sign of bringing in the clones.
The Jockey Club, which oversees breeding in North America, says to be registered and race, a newborn must be "the result of a stallion's breeding with a broodmare." No artificial insemination, no embryo transfers from one mare to another -- and no cloning.
The Jockey Club requires reports to document matings and DNA from newborns for "parentage verification" testing.
"We have DNA from the mother and the father. ... We run those through labs," spokesman Bob Curran Jr. says.
Rosenberg is confident the rules would detect even a secret clone: "If all those things don't match, you can't register the foal. It's pretty much foolproof."
He says the charm of breeding is in trying to find a mating that produces greatness.
"If you're just going to clone the best horses, that joy is gone," he says.
Objections go beyond that.
"You would basically, in laymen's terms, have too many related horses," says Dan Metzger, president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
"When you have more sire lines, more blood lines, it creates a stronger, more diverse blood line. ... Some people think it's shrinking too much now."
But ViaGen's Russell says cloning could be a way to further new blood lines if a champion has a pedigree not "commonly seen."
He says it could perpetuate a horse such as 2006 Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro, who died this year. "It's a shame," Russell says. "He had a tremendous contribution to make. Now he's gone forever."
In recent years, ViaGen has cloned bucking bulls (five Yellow Jackets and six Panhandle Slims), a champion rodeo barrel racing horse (Scamper) and competitive cutting horses.
It charges $150,000 to clone a horse, $15,000 for cattle and $5,000 for pigs. It offers DNA banking. Russell says Thoroughbred DNA could be frozen (for $1,500) for future use should the rule change.
Russell says all sorts of other factors would figure into what a horse becomes: "You don't know what all the environmental factors were that may have caused Secretariat to be as great as he was."
Three cloned mules, with what their creators say is matching nuclear DNA, were produced in 2003 by researchers from the University of Idaho and Utah State.
In 2006, Idaho Gem and Idaho Star competed in an eight-mule, 350-yard race in Nevada. Idaho Gem took third; Idaho Star was seventh.
Dirk Vanderwall, a researcher at Idaho and member of the cloning team, says the third mule, Utah Pioneer, is in training. The plan is for all three to race this year.