Cloned mules are bested in Nevada race by naturally bred competitors
WINNEMUCCA (AP) – Nature triumphed over nurture as two cloned mule brothers came up short in a professional race against naturally bred runners.
Idaho Gem, the world’s first equine clone, finished third while Idaho Star wound up seventh in an eight-way race Sunday at the 20th annual Winnemucca Mule Races, Show & Draft Horse Challenge.
Idaho Gem covered his 350-yard sprint in 21.246 seconds – two-and-a-half lengths behind the winner, Bar JF Hot Ticket, who finished in 20.866 seconds. Idaho Star checked in at 22.181 seconds.
Bert Johnson, a Stanford University professor and partner of Bar JF Hot Ticket’s owner, said the clones have a bright future in professional mule racing.
“They’re great athletes, and there’s no sign they’re any different than the other mules,” Johnson said. “I think they’re going to be competitive. These are the most successful animal clones to date in the world.”
The clones, who competed for an $8500 purse in the finals of their bracket, won their qualifying heats Saturday in what was billed as the first professional competition between clones of any kind.
The clones were born three years ago and carry identical DNA taken from a fetus produced by the same parents that sired a champion mule racer.
Both clones experienced problems shortly after leaving the gate Sunday.
Idaho Gem bumped into another mule and then changed lanes before coming on strong. Idaho Star went to the outside rail and stalled.
Idaho Star’s regular jockey did not compete Sunday. He was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication after being bucked from the clone shortly before Saturday’s qualifying race.
“I think both animals, especially Idaho Gem, showed they have a lot of upside,” said Don Jacklin, an Idaho man who helped finance the cloning project. “They both proved they could compete.”
Researchers on the cloning team hailed the clones’ athletic performance and the project’s benefits to human cancer research.
Horses and other equines have significantly lower cancer rates than humans, and scientists hope cloning will illuminate the difference and provide research clues, particularly into calcium’s role in the disease.
Equines have much less calcium within cell walls than humans, which could explain their lower incidents of cancer and age-related diseases, researchers on the cloning project said.
“Winning the race on the track is important, but the most important race is to find cures for human health,” said Gordon Woods, the University of Idaho scientist who created the clones.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, criticized the project.
There has been a very high failure rate among other clones and survivors have experienced a wide range of health problems, he said.
“There’s no shortage of horses and mules,” Pacelle said. “Why do we have to subject them to the risks associated with cloning? There’s no legitimate purpose for this exercise.”
A mule is the usually sterile offspring of a donkey father and a horse mother.
Most spectators appeared to embrace the clones, and some wore T-shirts that read, “Clone Zone.”
“I’m a broad-minded old woman, and I think the cloned mules are great,” said Mary Roark, 86, of Reno, who grew up on a Texas farm with mules. “I would have loved for my father to see this.”
But Susan Herring, 48, of Shawnee, Okla., objected to the cloning.
“Cloning is taking away from the natural process, and I think it’s wrong,” she said. “If we had zebra clones race, people would turn out to watch them, too. It’s something different.”
A crowd of 1,000 people stood and cheered as the mules raced down the stretch of an oval track in Winnemucca, about 160 miles northeast of Reno.
Winnemucca was the first stop on a professional mule racing circuit that will shift to county fairs in California through the summer.