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Horse breeding no sure bet -

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Horse breeding no sure bet

AM - Thursday, 20 December , 2007 08:21:00

Reporter: Simon Lauder

TONY EASTLEY: With the annual thoroughbred sales just a couple of months away, racing industry
big-wigs are preparing to spend a lot of money on the offspring of expensive stallions.

But new research shows spending millions on a prestigious bloodline may be a long shot.

As Simon Lauder reports, picking a winner takes more than good genes.

SIMON LAUDER: Earlier this year a thoroughbred called Virage De Fortune set a new Australian record
with a price tag of $3.4 million.

It doesn't take a scientist to point out that this horse may have been a better bargain.

COMMENTATOR: There's two fallers here, but it's Takeover Target...

SIMON LAUDER: Takeover Target, the winner of the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, was
bought for the bargain basement price of $1,400 dollars.

But that story may be more than just a fairytale. It demonstrates what scientists at Edinburgh
University have just proved, by examining the lifetime winnings of 4,000 gallopers going back to
the 1920s.

Evolutionary biologist Alastair Wilson found only 10 per cent of a horse's winnings can be
attributed to its bloodline. The rest is down to good training, good riding and good luck.

ALASTAIR WILSON: We then thought, well, is it the case that if you were to pay some stud fees to,
if you like, buy genes from a stallion, do you actually get what you pay for? And that's where, as
least as far as we can tell, the system sort of breaks down.

You cannot use the sort of measured performance of a horse on its own as being a reliable indicator
of the genes it's carrying because of all the other issues - to the jockeys, whether or not it gets
injured, what races it's put in for. All of those kinds of things were going to have a much bigger
effect. They account for 98 per cent of variation.

SIMON LAUDER: Not surprisingly, horse trainers are happy to take the extra credit. Gerald Ryan is
putting his horses through their paces at Sydney's Rosehill Racecourse this morning. He says he's
had some of his best results from relatively cheap thoroughbreds. He's also trained some expensive
horses which turned out to be duds.

GERALD RYAN: Yeah, no, there's a few of them around...

SIMON LAUDER: How much would they have cost?

GERALD RYAN: $1.5 million, three quarters of a million dollars.

SIMON LAUDER: And what were their winnings like?


SIMON LAUDER: For the punters, though, the science of nature versus nurture may not help pick a
winner, but at least the study shows there's more than one way to lose money on a horse.

TONY EASTLEY: Simon Lauder.