We all enjoy a sunny day trackside relaxing on the grass, a glass of bubbles in hand and placing a bet on the horse with the most creative name. But how do these beautiful foals become racehorses? Before we get too deep into this explanation, here are some terms you should become familiar with:
- A male horse is a stallion and during the conception and breeding process he is called the sire.
- A female horse is a mare and in the act of fertilisation and parenthood she is called the dam.
- A colt is a young male horse, while a filly is a young female horse. A baby horse is a foal, and when young horses are aged 14 – 22 months, they are called yearlings.
Now we've got the basic terminology covered, let's get started! The first thing that's needed when breeding horses is a sire and a dam. Selective breeding is used, and many breeders will choose particular parents based on their history on the track and in the breeding barn to try and develop prizewinning qualities in their yearlings.
There are several different schools of thought that argue between the sire and dam being more important in passing down characteristics to the foal. Some breeders insist on a proven competition record from the sire, while others look primarily at the dam, arguing that she may have more influence on the foal due to learned habits from its mother.
It’s not just the parents who come into question. Pedigree is assessed by examining the performance of close relatives, in order to determine the quality of a horse's bloodline and the likelihood of success.
Breeders aim to combine sires and dams with good characteristics and plan to breed out the weaknesses or genetic defects. The previous offspring of the stallion can also act as a good indicator of his ability to pass on positive traits.
The breeding process can be an expensive operation; stallion owners are paid stud fees for the mating services of their horse. A thoroughbred stallion with a Group 1 win under its belt may command a fee of several hundred thousand dollars.
Once born, the foal is brought up by the dam and weaned at 4 – 8 months of age. Even during this young stage, with just a few hairs from the mane, a Thoroughbred DNA testing laboratory can perform an analysis of its genetics. The results of the test can help give an indication of the foal’s future: if it is suitable for sprinting, long-distance or to become an elite performer.
Most thoroughbreds are purchased through sales at auctions as yearlings. This is the perfect age because the horses are not yet educated, but are still old enough to be assessed for racing capability.
In saying all of this, it is said that genetics may only account for approximately 30% of a racehorse's success. Once the yearling is sold, training, nutrition, and our old friend, lady luck all play a role in developing the continuing performance of a racehorse.
You can witness the result of excellent breeding at our next Festival of Racing event!
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