‘Motivator Gene’ Linked to Horses and Their Race Careers

The role of a behavior-related gene might explain why some Thoroughbreds start race careers while others don’t, researchers say.

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Genetics researchers believe they’ve identified a specific 'Motivator Gene,' which might explain why attitude is as important as physical ability when it comes to racing success.| Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
Genes associated with behavior might play as big a role as a horse’s physical attributes in determining whether a Thoroughbred makes it to the races.

In previous studies, researchers have shown that fewer than half of Thoroughbred foals born actually race, with durability–the horse’s ability to withstand the rigors of training—seen as a critical factor.

New peer-reviewed research by scientists at University College Dublin (UCD) and equine science company Plusvital has established a genetic contribution to whether a horse is likely to race and has identified genes associated with behavior that might be key influencers. One of these genes is PRCP, which, based on these results, which researchers are calling the “motivator gene.”

Emmeline Hill, PhD, UCD professor of equine science and chief science officer with Plusvital, said the high proportion of Thoroughbred foals that don’t make a race start, despite being bred for this purpose, has a major economic impact not just on the owner but on the racing industry as a whole. She said the identification of key genes has opened exciting possibilities for the sector

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