Hopefully you readers haven’t grown weary of my ongoing equine coverage, because there’s more news on that front today. Yesterday, cloned mules Idaho Star and Idaho Gem ran against each other in Nevada at the Winnemucca Mule Race, each having won his respective qualifying heat. Neither one took home the purse, but Gem pretty much smoked Star, coming in third to his seventh.
Interestingly, although the two were created using cells from the same champion stock, they were separated throughout their training so that Idaho businessman Don Jacklin, who is leasing them from the University of Idaho, could observe the “nature vs. nurture” effects of differing environments on their personalities and racing fitness. Gem was trained at an Idaho track and did lots of short sprints (which may help to explain why he excelled in Sunday’s race—a quick 350-yard dash). Star was sent to New Mexico, where, according to the New York Times, he “trained on range land, chasing cars.” Huh?
Anyway, a quick look at the ubiquitous photo of the two mules standing face to face reveals a lot about how their very different upbringings may have shaped them. Star (the car chaser, on the left) has an almost sleepy, bucolic look on his face and is wearing a very gentle snaffle bit bridle—a sign that he’s a pretty easygoing guy and, at any rate, not very hard to stop. Not a supergood sign in a racing animal. Gem, on the other hand, looks like he’s been fed crack. He’s wearing blinders to help him keep his eyes on the prize, and he’s got his tongue jammed over the top of a strong racing bit. All indications that he’s a little more jacked-up, personality-wise, and also probably more excited about the idea of actually winning.
So, you might be wondering, does this whole cloned-mule thing have implications for the future of the Triple Crown? In a word, no. The rules for thoroughbred racing forbid even artificial insemination—forget about cloning. Which means we won’t be seeing the cloned spawn of Seabiscuit on the track at Pimlico anytime soon. —Megan Miller