When he was on a racetrack, Cigar was always a champion, but when it comes to the mating game, he is anything but. Despite more than 30 attempts, the best horse of recent years has so far failed to get a mare into foal, and Allen Paulson, Cigar's former owner, is getting so desperate that yesterday he suggested cloning as a remedy for his horse's ills.
"We are certainly looking at cloning," Paulson told the New York Post. "Up to last week, 16 of 31 bred to Cigar have been tested, and none is in foal. There's no life in his sperm at all. It's a big shock."
Quite what Paulson might hope to achieve by such a course of action - even if it were possible to overcome the huge technical difficulties - is hard to say. The sperm of a clone of Cigar would, almost by definition, be as lifeless as those of the original. In order to race a clone, meanwhile, Paulson would need to overcome international agreements which ban artificial insemination and, by implication at least, cloning.
That Paulson could even suggest such a thing probably says more about his frustration at seeing the most valuable racehorse in the world depreciate even more rapidly than the average betting slip. Cigar's track career, which included a sequence of 16 successive victories, was the most lucrative in racing history, earning prize-money of almost $10m (pounds 6m), and a successful retirement to stud could have taken the total far higher.
When Dolly, the cloned sheep, was unveiled by the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh last month, the possibility of performing a similar operation with a horse became a little more credible, but if Paulson believes it is imminent, he is sadly mistaken. "Whether it is transferable to other species, we don't know," Harry Griffin, of the Institute, said. "Other attempts will be made with cattle, and then probably with pigs."
Cloning might eventually allow the owners of prime bloodstock to produce carbon copies, but whether this would be desirable for the sport as a whole must be questionable. The genetic variety which is encouraged by traditional breeding methods is generally a good thing for the breed, and even rich and desperate men like Allen Paulson may find that such considerations will stand in their way.
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