Louisville Kentucky Derby (May 5, 2007) photo via Wikimedia Commons, Credit - Velo Steve [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
Louisville Kentucky Derby (May 5, 2007) photo via Wikimedia Commons, Credit - Velo Steve [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

The Science of Thoroughbred Racing

Photo Credit: Velo Steve [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
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Louisville Kentucky Derby (May 5, 2007) photo via Wikimedia Commons, Credit - Velo Steve [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

About This Episode

On this episode of Playing with Science, hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice strap on their boots, place their bets, and hop into the saddle as they explore the science of horse racing. Joined by Dr. Stephen Harrison, founder of Thoroughbred Genetics, and Sean Clancy, former champion steeplechase jockey who currently runs Sean Clancy Bloodstock and Riverdee Stable.

Dr. Harrison’s Thoroughbred Genetics company “uniquely utilize[s] state-of-the-art genetic technology in conjunction with an in-depth knowledge of genetics and racing to improve the effectiveness of thoroughbred breeding and performance.” You’ll hear what makes a great horse and why horses have been “artificial” for longer than you might think. Discover more about genetic diversity, or lack thereof, in thoroughbred horses. Stephen tells us how he uses DNA testing to figure out what works and what doesn’t. You’ll also learn why it’s better to focus on the small nuances in genes rather than the bigger picture.

Stephen explains why this approach to the industry is similar to the “moneyball” approach in baseball. We ask, “Can data analysis go beyond breeding? Can it improve training?” You’ll hear about steroid use in horse racing, and whether or not horses are considered athletes. We discuss if genetic engineering will evolve into being a tool for the richest breeders and owners to control the sport, and, Stephen explains why thoroughbred racing is like the English soccer leagues when it comes to financial capability. 

Get details on Sean’s experience as a steeplechase jockey and why it made “perfect sense” to him during his childhood. You’ll hear why steeplechase is so electrifying and how a jockey can be in sync with a horse like a driver with a car. Find out the first thing Sean looks for when he’s buying a horse. Discover the importance of “balance.” Sean  shares the importance of keeping your cool in public auctions. We ponder why horses are being sold in the first place – is something “wrong” with those being sold? We also explore if you can push a horse past its limits. Investigate how much money swirls around when buying and selling thoroughbred horses. Lastly, Sean tells us why buying horses is a combination of knowing the science and good ol’ fashioned horsemanship. 

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: The Science of Thoroughbred Racing.

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