Breeding polo ponies in Australia took a giant step when Vicuña was born last September. This young filly became the first horse in Australia to be born using a unique cloning technique, a method of reproduction that signifies revolution for the industry.
Such a milestone was achieved by Catalina Genetics, a laboratory near Sydney, that successfully cloned the famous Australian mare Ellerston Tweed. “Vicuña was cloned using skin cells which were collected almost a year beforehand and then stored in liquid nitrogen at the lab,” laboratory stated on their Instagram account (@catalinagenetics). Since world star Adolfo Cambiaso had success in cloning his famous mare Dolfina Cuartetera and now her clones make up a great deal of his horse lot, cloning in polo has proven to be a successful breeding technique. Argentina has led the way in cloning polo horses with laboratories in the US also taking advantage of this method massively. Now Australia has the chance to boost their celebrated polo pedigree and stay competitive worldwide, with the potential of spreading all around Asia.
“Catalina Genetics was founded in 2018 by my partner and I following the loss of Easter, a very talented young horse. We identified cloning as an avenue to provide Easter’s genetics with an opportunity to succeed in polo, despite her early passing. Easter’s clone will be born later this year and we’re excited for the opportunity to prove her ability,” said John Farren-Price, co-founder of the lab based in North Richmond. “We identified a terrific team of people to join us on the journey, including Jenin Cortez Polanco, a brilliant embryologist from Peru. We then built what we consider to be a world class laboratory and embryo transfer facility and started on the path to successfully clone. Naturally, with any project like this, there have been challenges, though we’ve just had a very successful breeding season and the future is very exciting.” According to Farren-Price, cloning represents the future of breeding: “Over the years, many terrific bloodlines have been exported from Australia and now make up the foundation for many successful breeders in Argentina, the United States and the United Kingdom. Cloning allows us to repatriate our bloodlines and in the future, will allow us to breed and export the progeny without losing our bloodlines. As I’ve said to many people, cloning is not breeding, it simply provides us with a far broader source of genetics from which to breed. Those who wish to produce world class horses still need to identify the best cross and raise the horse in the correct environment. On that basis, cloning is just one tool in the breeding arsenal, albeit an important one.”
Also, Farren-Price stated that cloning is key for Australian breeding to remain competitive worldwide. “I think cloning has great potential to aid up and coming breeders obtain the very best genetics and sell their product without losing their core bloodlines,” he told ClickPolo Asia. “Given our distance from the key European and American markets, the movement of embryos remains very difficult. The only reliable method of moving genetics (other than semen) from or to Australia from the major polo markets is by way of skin or stem cells, which makes cloning the number 1 technology for distributing genetics reliably around the world.”
Why Ellerston Tweed?
“Ellerston Tweed is among the best mares produced by Ellerston and became particularly attractive to Catalina due to her ability to play exceptionally well and pass on these traits to her progeny,” answered John Farren-Price. “She is a rare mare that both plays and breeds at the highest levels and ultimately, that’s what we’re looking for in a cloning prospect.” Ellerston Tweed was bred at Ellerston in 2003 by Wickerwork out of Kylie. She played for the top Ellerston team (White) her entire polo career. Her descendants included some amazing mares, such as Silk (played by Pelon Stirling in the 2010-2012 Argentine Open), Cashmere, Lace, Suede, Tartan, Satin, Calico, Cotton, Linen and Donegal.
Vicuña was the first, but Catalina Genetics has other ponies in the process of being cloned, such as Lovelocks Sex (played by Barto Castagnola & BPP UK Gold Cup Final), Open El Padrino (12 progeny played the 2020 Argentine Triple Crown), Lovelocks Samurai (Lovelocks best young horse), Ellerston Cuddles (played Argentine Open with Gonza Pieres), Lovelocks Illuminate, Brook (played by Ale Muzzio), Vasco Carajo (gelding played by Charlie Hanbury, his favourite while in Argentina), Ellerston Impulse (played by Pelon Stirling and James Packer), Ellerston Auburn (currently Ruki Ballieu’s best horse) and Lovelocks Chekhov (young stallion played by Charlie Hanbury).