Study: Medication Has No Effect on Genetics

Horses with North American pedigrees are thriving in Australia.

A case study of performance by Australian racehorses with predominantly North American pedigrees has revealed some insight into the use of race-day medication in America.

While the genetic integrity of North American-bred horses does not seem to have been adversely affected by race-day medication, the study also showed these horses apparently do not need medication to be successful. A first glance at this study's results was presented Aug. 11 at The Jockey Club's 61st Annual Round Table Conference held at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The study, commissioned by The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee and overseen by committee member Dr. Hiram Polk Jr., used data collected from Racing Services of Australia on all runners foaled since 1995. Out of a database of nearly 147,500 runners, the The Jockey Club study analyzed the records of 14,502 horses that had been divided into three groups depending on where their ancestors raced looking back three generations.

The groups were: horses whose ancestors only raced in North America; horses with at least half their ancestors having raced in North America; and horses that had no ancestors that raced in North America.

Australia does not permit horses to have any medication in their systems on race day.

"The purpose of the study was to find out if there had been any discernible change in the gene pool due to an exposure to race-day medication," Polk said during his Round Table presentation.

Preliminary results showed Australian racehorses with exclusively North American pedigrees made more starts, raced more frequently, and won at longer distances on average than the other two groups. North American-bred horses also ran as fast and earned as much as horses with 50% North American pedigrees. The results of this study are expected to be submitted for publication so exact figures were not made available. The study is expected to be published by the end of the year, according to Polk.

In general, North American-bred horses made about 17.4 starts per horse compared to about 16.8 starts for horses with 50% North American pedigrees and 15.8 starts for horses with no North American horses in their families. On average, North American-bred horses were raced every 45 days compared with 50 days for 50% North American-bred horses and 55 days for foreign-bred horses. The average speeds at a quarter mile ranged from :24.30 for North American-breds to :24.15 for foreign-bred horses.

The average earnings for North American-breds was around $23,800. Horses with half North American pedigrees made the most with an average around $24,500, while foreign-bred horses earned about $16,500.

"The data shows three generations of North American horses have not been affected by an exposure to race-day medication," Polk said. "It also shows that these horses are capable of racing successfully without race-day medication."

Polk later added that the results of the study will be tweaked further to account for variables.

"We do have some concerns with the study results and will be taking some variables out one at a time to look at the results and make certain the groups are as comparable as possible," Polk said.

Some of the those adjustments could include taking out horses with exceptionally low earnings (less than US$1,000), horses that raced in exceptionally long races (3,200 meters and up), taking out horses that never competed at one of Australia's 17 elite racetracks, or taking out horses of South American ancestry.