A gene linked to speed in today’s Thoroughbred horses was tracked back to a British mare that lived roughly 300 years ago, according to a study published in Nature Communications Tuesday (January 24).
The gene, a variant of myostatin, which is key in developing muscle mass in many species, was shown to predict the speed and stamina of a horse. Two copies of the C-type variant, for example, is likely to result in a horse that runs fast over short distances, ideal for the sprint races that are commonly run today. The other variant, the type T, is better suited for stamina, allowing horses to run fast for long distances.
Researchers looked at the genetics and pedigree of 593 horses, dead and alive, and tracked the C-type variant to a single mare. While horses carrying the C-type variant were still rare in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were widely propagated in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s by breeding two celebrated father-son stallions, Nearctic and Northern Dancer.