The Genetic Origin And History Of Speed In The Thoroughbred Racehorse

Throughout the year there are many horse races but few are as important as the upcoming Cheltenham Festival. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the ambiance of the races and perhaps generate a few extra funds.

The Cheltenham festival has been in existence since 1860 and offers the second largest prize fund of any race in the UK. It’s a great time to take a look at the best Cheltenham betting odds and try your luck. You never know, you might walk away with a healthy prize of your own!

If you intend to bet then it is important to understand the genetics of the horses and evaluate their chances of success. To do this it is beneficial to understand the genetic origins of the thoroughbred racehorse.

The Origins

All modern thoroughbred racehorses can trace their ancestry to one of three stallions. The genetic make-up of today’s thoroughbreds is a direct result of 74 native British mares and one of these stallions. The three were all foreign, they are either Turkish, Arabic or of Barb origin.

Surprisingly there is minimal research into the DNA of these horses and which should be bred. Instead the world of horse racing has relied on breeding the strongest and fastest of mares with the original stallions or their descendants. The result is that speed and stamina are effectively bred into the horse.

But this is slowly changing. As more recent research shows, 95% of today’s thoroughbreds can actually be traced to one stud, the Darley Arabian!


While breeding from the same gene pool is improving the chances of obtaining fast race horses it does not help the future of horse racing.

Because thorough reds are being bred solely with each other and the best traits are being concentrated on, all other traits are slowly being bred out. However this can lead to fundamental flaws in their make-up. Research shows the level of inbreeding is increasing and so is the number of horses fracturing their legs while racing. It’s difficult to confirm the two facts are linked but it seems like a likely conclusion.

This could become a serious issue for horse racing in the future.

The Need For Speed

Thoroughbreds have always been bred based on who is the fastest and fittest horse. Now modern science is able to take this a step further. The gene which makes a horse so fast has been isolated. This means that with DNA testing it is now possible to identify which horses are most likely to produce a fast offspring. 

Indeed, it is even possible to genetically alter the make-up of the horse to ensure it has this gene; whether this is ethically correct is a different matter.

The need to be the fastest on the track will always push owners into playing with the gene pool, the stakes are extremely high. But you can use this to your advantage. Verify the gene that gives speed in the distance you enjoy the most and then check which horses have that gene; that’s a good place to put your bet.


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March 2018
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