Cruising — one of the most successful and influential sport horse sires ever — has been cloned.
By Sea Crest and out of Mullacrew, the stallion died in September aged 29 at Hartwell Stud in Co. Kildare, in the stable in which he was born.
The stud took biopsies in 2011, and last year owner Mary McCann told H&H they hadn’t ruled out cloning the stallion.
However, last week (13 February) it emerged two clones were born at Hartwell Stud in 2012. Cruising Arish and Cruising Encore will be available for breeders this year.
“We were approached by an American company in 2011, and took the biopsies. It was a hard decision as a lot of people don’t approve of the idea of cloning, so it took about three months to weigh it up,” said Mrs McCann told H&H. “But after a lot of research we discovered how many clones are around, so we decided to go for it.”
The procedure — which involves taking cells from a donor animal and implanting them in an unfertilised egg with the DNA removed and being placed in a host mare — costs around £100,000.
When cloning horses, genes are identically reproduced. A horse and its clone share the same genetic background — but this does not mean that they will achieve the same results and performance in competition.
“Cruising was an amazing character. He was a lovely horse and had his own ideas about things,” added Mrs McCann.
“He’s a proven sire of eventers and showjumpers at top level — with his progeny including Mr Medicott, Flexible, Mr Cruise Control and Mo Chroi.
“We wanted to keep the traditional Irish sport horse genes going. We can’t say they’ll be great showjumpers like Cruising was — as that’s a nature vs nurture question — but they will have his genes.
“There’s a little bit of déjà vu when I’m on the yard when they do something as they have exactly his mannerisms. They are also the same colour he was at that age.”
The first cloned horse was born in 2003 and although not allowed in racing, the FEI lifted its ban on clones in international horse sport in 2012.
It is believed to be the first time a horse has been cloned in Ireland.
Horse Sport Ireland’s Damian McDonald said that the sport horse sector has always welcomed the use of science to breed better horses.
“Cloning won’t be something everyone will embrace but it is another option for breeders and Cruising’s genetics are traditionally Irish, which is important to a cohort of breeders,” he said.
Although Mrs McCann will be breeding from the clones, she told H&H she doesn’t want to push them too early.
“They are only three but we have a couple of mares lined up. We also don’t know if they will compete yet as I don’t jump three-year-olds as I think it’s too young,” she said.
The news was revealed when Hartwell Stud went to put a stallion listing in the Irish Field.
“It took a bit of ingenuity to keep it quiet for three years,” Mrs McCann added.
“When people visited the stud and they saw the two heads over the stable door and they asked about them I’d just say “Cruising” and they’d assume I meant ‘by’ Cruising.
“We can’t get over the amount of attention it’s received,” she said. “There’s been very little negativity.”