Retired Racehorses Give Back to Racing Through Research

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(via press release)

More than 100 horses currently being cared for by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) will take part in a study at Texas A&M University that will attempt to identify genes in horses predisposed to fractures and catastrophic breakdowns.

"We're looking for some kind of genetic trait that may make the difference," said Jana Caldwell, a PhD student in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. She is working with a team, headed by Dr. Bhanu Chowdhary that specializes in equine genetics.

"It seems fitting that our horses at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation would find a way to give back," said Diana Pikulski, executive director of the TRF.

The Equine Genetics Laboratory will receive tissue samples from horses in a blind study who suffer catastrophic breakdowns from a group of regulatory veterinarians throughout the country. Researchers will use TRF horses - those with 30 or more starts and did not sustain career-ending injuries.

"The TRF horses are all over the country and have been exposed to all kinds of track conditions," said Caldwell. "We'll use approximately 170 of them in our study."

The TAMU team believes that there should be a reason why some horses run 30-plus times and don't break down as opposed to horses who run 10 times and snap their leg. Among the various reasons, genetic make-up could be one. No organized studies have been carried out up till now to study this aspect. Hence, the team is undertaking this work with the long-term goal to identify genetic signatures that can help to predict which horses might be at higher risk of breaking on the track than others.

The team emphasizes that a study of this magnitude and complexity will take time before any concrete answers will be forthcoming. Nevertheless, the initial phase of the work planned for the next couple of years will certainly improve our understanding of the likely genetic causes than we have today.