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LOS ALAMITOS : Debate Over Embryo Transplants Continues


Dash For Speed, named 1990 world champion quarter horse this week, is expecting her first foal in March--through a surrogate mother.

Dashin Dee Dee, winner of a division of the Las Damas Handicap this month at Los Alamitos, had her first foal the day before the race, also through a "recipient mare."

Strawfly Special, who won the Southern California Derby last month and will compete against Dashin Dee Dee in the HQHRA Championship Feb. 2, is an embryo transfer colt and the most compelling evidence that the procedure works.

The practice of embryo transferring has become increasingly common in quarter horse racing during the last decade, but the debate over its use continues. It is prohibited in the thoroughbred and standardbred industries.

According to American Quarter Horse Assn. statistics, 604 embryo-transfer foals have been registered, 160 of which have made it to the races.

Owners consider embryo transfers for two primary reasons:

--To help a quality mare who otherwise might have physical problems carrying or delivering a foal.

--To allow a quality mare to continue racing, earn more money and enhance her value while the recipient mare carries the foal.

Bobby Blakeman of Ft. Worth, co-owner of Dash For Speed, wanted to race her for one more year, as a 5-year-old, in quest of world champion honors but also knew the two-time divisional champion was a valuable broodmare.

"We got a little greedy and if we got a little lucky, I thought we could have it both ways," said Blakeman, whose mare earned $209,595 in 1990 and clinched the coveted title with a victory in the Champion of Champions Dec. 15 at Los Alamitos. He hopes for another celebration on March 14, his and the mare's birthday and the projected date for the birth of her foal by Streaking Six.

Dash For Speed, permanently retired at 6 with $1.2-million in earnings, will deliver her own babies from then on. She has a mating date with Exclusive Enough, a thoroughbred, later this winter.

The non-surgical embryo transplant procedure is fast and painless, according to veterinarians. A week after the mare is impregnated, her uterus is flushed, the embryo is found and is transferred, through an artificial insemination straw, to the recipient, who should be ovulating at that time.

Gregg Veneklasen, a veterinarian from Amarillo, performed the procedures responsible for Strawfly Special and Effortless Dream, the sport's leading embryo-transfer successes with earnings of $198,175 and $160,981, respectively.

"Fly In The Pie, the dam of Strawfly Special, was a good mare who chipped a knee in a race," Veneklasen said. "When I flushed her, she never knew it happened. It's very simple. It doesn't take 30 minutes. It's all technique in where you put the embryo in the recipient mare.

"We got one out of 10 embryos in 1984. The next year it was 40%. It went to 60-80% thereafter.

Veneklasen said the procedure costs $3,000 to $4,000, which will limit candidates.

"It's an expensive deal," he said. "It will be limited to mares that warrant that kind of money."

Many question the influence of the recipient mare on the behavior of the foal.

"In the case of both Strawfly Special and Effortless Dream, I put the embryos into bucking mares from Wyoming," said Veneklasen. "They weren't race horses but they were very aggressive. I don't know yet what the environment does. Some say it doesn't matter, but I don't know that."

Dr. Ed Squires of Colorado State said, "We got involved in it around 1979 as an outgrowth from expertise in the cattle embryo-transfer unit. We did 115 transfers last year commercially.

"The big question is whether these babies can run, and the answer is, yes, they can. We have statistics to show they have a higher percentage of success than the average. But that makes sense since they select the best mares."

The AQHA limits registration to one foal per mare per calendar year, unless she has twins. Spencer Harden of Millsap, Tex., believes a great mare should be allowed to have several annually to improve the breed. Harden owns Jazzabelle Quixote, producer of an unregistered second foal in 1986 named July Jazz, who earned more than $100,000 in cutting competition.

Ginger Hyland, owner of White Oaks Ranch in Lake Hughes, bred a record two quarter horse millionaires, Dashingly and Florentine.

"I prefer to let Mother Nature work on her own," said Hyland, who is opposed to the transfer procedure. "I would only consider it if I had a fine mare who broke a leg and was too crippled to carry a baby.

"You can get too greedy. We have to be careful in the long run not to tamper with the female reproductive system. When the AQHA permitted the rule, I don't think that's what it was designed for.

"Most of the time, (embryo-transfer foals are) not as good as natural foals. Often they're not nearly as vigorous. An embryo-transfer full sister to Dashingly was the best looking one I've seen but many at the farms are puny.

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