When Dr Emmeline Hill identified a unique sequence of the equine genome dubbed the ‘speed gene’ in 2009 at University College in Dublin, she was certain the discovery had the power to change the racing industry.
Not even the most ambitious projection could foresee that her genetic tests would influence a Lexus Melbourne Cup, Newmarket Handicap, and Cox Plate result in the same Flemington stable all in the space of a decade.
Reflecting on the impact of speed gene research around the world, Dr Hill is thrilled that her work has helped identify the strengths of horses like Vow And Declare, Russian Camelot, and Shamus Award.
“With an increasing number of owners also learning about the information that genetic testing can provide, we have certainly noticed a greater interest in and knowledge of what this testing can offer,” said Dr Hill.
“This renewed curiosity hasn’t just been restricted to Australia, but all of the world’s major thoroughbred regions.”
Indeed, the O’Brien stable isn’t the only Australian yard taking advantage of genetic testing. Lindsay Park has utilised the science for years, and former AFL premiership-winning coach turned horse trainer, Denis Pagan declared after the great run of his first Flemington runner, young stayer Johnny Get Angry which came third place, that he used the speed gene test to help program his horses.
The test itself doesn’t predict how good a horse might be, merely the optimum distance range that their genes say they will perform at.
“It is important to recognise that genetics is part of the puzzle that should be used to complement all the other information about the horse, and the environment plays probably an even greater role than genetics,” said Dr Hill.