Horse clones are changing polo – and possibly the world

Performance-enhancing drugs have been a scourge for sports, from cycling to baseball to track and field.

Biotechnology-enhanced horses, however, seem to be alright.

Cloned horses have contributed for some years to a champion polo team in Argentina. They became the subject of a 60 Minutes segment that also featured the world’s preeminent polo player, Adolfo Cambiaso.

His favorite horse, Aiken Cura, was euthanized 12 years ago when he broke his leg. But Cambiaso saved some of his skin cells.

“Just in case years later, cloning is normal,” he told the CBS program.

And, years later, evidently it is. Now he again can ride Aiken Cura. Well, Aiken Cura E01.

A four-year-old, identical replica of the horse who died in 2006 again features on his team.

“Seeing Cura alive again after so many years was really strange,” he told Vanity Fair in a 2015 feature. “It’s still strange. Thank goodness I saved his cells.”

That success led to others.

Considered one of the greatest horses in the history of polo, Cuartetera is 17 years old. Cambiaso said she was the kind of horse “born to play” the sport. Like soccer’s transcendental talent Lionel Messi.

“There is those horses in life … it’s not many,” he said.

Except now there are, indeed, many. Cambiaso has cloned Cuartetera 14 times. He and a pair of other well-heeled, ambitious fans of the sport started Crestview Genetics in 2009. They have since been creating clones of some of polo’s most prolific horses.

Many begin their lives in Texas. KFDA in Amarillo reported on how cloning isn’t all it’s stereotyped to be. While the animals are genetic matches, of course, there’s no recreating characteristics like personality.

“You can’t clone the personality. You can clone the same animal, but it’s going to be different,” Jason Abraham, who works at a veterinary hospital in Texas where cloned animals are born, told the station.

Athletically, however, the physical reproduction helps. Cloning has in many ways radically transformed polo.

Cambiaso’s clone-aided La Dolfina Polo Team has won one of the world’s most prestigious tournaments, the Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo, or Argentine Open, each of the last five years.

His teams have won multiple Triple Crowns in recent years – a feat that includes victory in two other prominent Argentine tournaments, the Hurlingham Open and Tortugas Open.

There is only a little disagreement about the validity of using clones, as well. Facundo Pieres, the world’s second-ranked player, doesn’t endorse the practice. But his concerns are more practical than philosophical.

“There would be a lot of pressure for the clones to perform as well as the original, and in reality it depends a lot on how they’re bred, broken, and trained,” he has said.

And it hasn’t stopped him playing alongside Cambiaso on the Valiente polo team during the current American season.

With the way Cambiaso’s clones have performed, the practice could spread far.

“I think what it’s done is probably raise the bar,” Alan Meeker, a Texan who is one of Cambiaso’s partners at Crestview, told 60 Minutes of cloning’s influence on the sport.

It has also raised the obvious parallel: Could humans, too, be so seamlessly reproduced? In the near future, could there be a genetic copy of Messi or LeBron James dominating their sport?

Meeker told Vanity Fair three years ago he would never do it. The third partner in Crestview, Ernesto Gutierrez, also said he wouldn’t.

But he believes it’s possible.

“Yes I can do it, but I’m just not going to,” he said he has told people who have asked about human cloning.

For now, though, it remains just horse clones pioneering the science, and changing a sport.

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