There are a lot of ways to raise champion racehorses. Cloning, traditionally, hasn't been one of them.
But now that could be about to change. The jury in a federal court in Texas has ruled that the American Quarter Horse Association's ban on cloned horses is a violation of anti-monopoly laws. The American quarter horse is a breed best known and valued for its sprinting ability. The AQHA, which bills itself as the "world's largest equine breed registry and membership organization," has more than 750,000 quarter horses registered.
Two Texas breeders — a rancher named Jason Abraham and a veterinarian named Gregg Veneklasen — had sued the association after it refused to register eight cloned horses. The AQHA, like all other horse breed associations, has policies against registering cloned animals. The AQHA's policy specifically prohibits registering horses "produced by any cloning process" and bans them from participating in races and other official association events. In its official policy statement on the lawsuit the association argued that cloning is "not breeding" because "clones don't have parents" and said cloning does not improve the breed but makes "Xerox copies of the same horse." AQHA also said that selected breeding was the only way to ensure the strength of the breed in the future.
But plaintiff Veneklasen told NBC News at the beginning of the trial last month that cloning was an effective way to strengthen the breed by bringing back genes from deceased parents or by removing "detrimental genes." He accused several "loud" and "uneducated" members of the association for dominating the anti-clone conversation. A poll of the group's membership found that 86% were against registering clones.
The jury agreed with Abraham and Veneklasen, saying the ban violated both state and federal antitrust laws. The duo had also sued for up to $6 million in damages, which the jury did not grant, according to Reuters.
Court documents said the AQHA sanctions thousands of horse races every year and that last year's events had a total purse of more than $130 million. Johne Dobbs, president of the AQHA's Executive Committee, said the ruling is unlikely to have much effect on racing. He told The Daily Racing Form that cloning a horse is too expensive and costs upwards of $165,000.
Blake Russell, the owner of an unrelated company that clones horses, told Reuters that he doesn't think cloning specifically produces superior racing horses, but he said he did expect the ruling means his business will increase.
The plaintiffs say they will now try to register their cloned horses with the association. The American Quarter Horse Association, meanwhile, said it plans to appeal.
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