Bloodlines: What Will Be The Legacy Of Storm Cat Clone?

by | 07.29.2015 | 9:27am
Storm Cat "has indeed been cloned," said Chris Young of Overbrook Farm

When I read the nearly off-hand comment that Storm Cat had been cloned last week in a Vanity Fair article profiling Crestview Genetics, I felt that electric sensation that the future was already here. Or perhaps, the past was actually the future. Then, rationalizing, my reaction was that someone had misspoken, had meant that a son or daughter of the most commercially dynamic sire of the past generation had actually been the horse cloned. Not Storm Cat, surely.

Nyet, comrade.

Chris Young of Overbrook Farm confirmed that Storm Cat, the powerful dark bay son of Storm Bird and Terlingua (by Secretariat), “has indeed been cloned.”

Since Storm Cat was euthanized on April 24, 2013, at the Young family's Overbrook Farm, racing and breeding have been adjusting to the state of affairs, no Storm Cats available to race, that had been developing since the stallion had been pensioned in 2008.

Today, there are essentially no remaining offspring of Storm Cat on the racetrack, and Young confirmed that will remain the case. He said, “We have no intent to race the Storm Cat clone or its offspring” in non-sanctioned races, as had been suggested in the Vanity Fair article.


Rather, Young explained the situation was one that grew out of a meeting with Alan Meeker years ago and an awareness of Meeker's genetic cloning business, Crestview.

Crestview's signature cloning results in high-end polo ponies for elite players and teams around the world, and that is how Young came to know Meeker.

Then, a few years ago, “when Storm Cat's health was declining,” Young recalled, “we took blood and tissue samples from the horse, and we shared those with the UK Gluck Equine Research Center, to develop a baseline of data about Storm Cat's genetics, and with Crestview.”

From the Storm Cat sample in its possession, Crestview was able to produce clone embryos of Storm Cat, and earlier this spring, they had two [colt] foals who were clones of Storm Cat. Both were pictured and mentioned in the Vanity Fair article, but Young said that one of the colts has since died in a paddock accident.

That leaves the single colt who is a living thread of his famous father, or is it he himself?

Overbrook “shares ownership of the colt with Crestview Genetics that is similar to a royalty arrangement,” Young said, that would be paid from any resulting stud fee earnings. He said that Meeker had sent an email Tuesday morning with an update that the colt is doing well.

“We have done what we wanted to do: create a source of sperm genetically identical to Storm Cat,” Young concluded.

This is a box of bees that could be kicked into high gear by a single rule change at the Jockey Club: allow cloned horses and their offspring to be registered as Thoroughbreds and to race. Currently that is emphatically not allowed, and frankly, I expect to be walking on water before that change occurs. 

So Storm Cat's clone will be restricted to mating polo mares or mares from other breeds which allow cloning and other forms of reproduction aside from live cover for exclusive use in the polo industry.

That will be a radically different career from the colt who was born 32 years ago and who dominated breeding and racing during a 20-year career at stud. Owned, bred, and raced by W.T. Young, Storm Cat was the best American-raced son of Storm Bird (Northern Dancer), and Storm Cat would have been champion 2-year-old but for Tasso's nose victory at the end of the 1985 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Retired to Overbrook, Storm Cat became a sire of such class and distinction that he dominated sales and racing with performers like Kentucky Oaks winner Sardula, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat, Alabama Stakes winner November Snow, Hopeful winner Hennessy, Beldame winner Sharp Cat, Breeders' Cup race winners Sweet Catomine, Storm Flag Flying, Cat Thief, Life is Sweet, and Desert Stormer, as well as the top racehorse and sire Giant's Causeway. In all, Storm Cat sired 181 stakes winners from 1,414 foals.

As a racehorse and as a sire, Storm Cat operated at an elite level and became a legend without the advantage of perfect conformation or unlimited initial opportunity among his mates.

Whether a clone of Storm Cat could attain such success is not known. It is also probably immaterial because the Jockey Club allows registration only of foals born from natural cover, and the Storm Cat clone would not qualify for registration.

But as long as he is standing in that paddock of lush grass, the question will be, “What if?”

Young provides a pragmatic answer to much of the wondering about the cloned colt: “When the colt lives to sexual maturity, and if he is fertile and a healthy breeder, then we will have him mated to polo mares, and in a few more years, we should know whether those foals are good performance horses in that sport.”

After the better part of a decade, we will know whether the Storm Cat clone will be a success in this new venture and will add an asterisk to the history and legacy of Terlingua's son.

Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.

  • McGov

    It’s a brave new world….

  • Bill O’Gorman

    Everyone wants magic.

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      Unfortunately, they don’t realize it’s an illusion. I can’t tell you how vehemently I oppose the use of breeding technology.

  • Betty Earl

    I have been wanting to go down to Florida for years and dig up Dr. Fager, imagine a stable full of Fager’s.

  • Richard C

    — Storm Cat Park —

  • kelly j

    Not exactly a bright mark for the legacy of Storm Cat.

    • 4Bellwether666

      Thanks to the Young family…Awesome looking head he had for sure!!!…

  • Jen

    I think it’s weird, and denigrates the original Storm Cat, who was very special.

  • Terri Z

    Thanks Frank for a truly wonderful article. Isn’t it interesting that our current Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, is a descendent of Storm Cat. And never again will it be said that a Storm Cat descendent is incapable of winning a Triple Crown race yet alone all three Triple Crown races. (Of course, no one should just look at 1/2 of a horse’s pedigree.)
    And the same year we have a great great grandson of Storm Cat win the Triple Crown, Storm Cat is cloned.

    • Tinky

      Um…no one ever asserted that a Storm Cat “descendent” was incapable of winning a Classic race. In fact, a son of his, Tabasco Cat, won the Preakness and Belmont. What was asserted was that he was not a sire of Classic types, as the vast majority of his offspring were sprinters and milers. Given that he sired only a single American Classic winner, that assertion was quite clearly correct.

      In any case, American Pharoah is not meaningfully related to Storm Cat, as the latter is his dam’s paternal grandsire. There are at least three sires and three mares that had a greater genetic influence.

  • Tinky

    Even if he were allowed to breed Thoroughbreds, the likelihood of the clone being remotely as effective as Storm Cat is roughly zero.

    • This is the point that is going to be really interesting, There is no argument that there would be a significant variation on the racing success of a clone, but if the genes are truly identical, then how does the clone vary much in reproduction? They may vary, but that seems the question in this.
      Not that we’ll know the result in terms of Thoroughbred racing.

      • Tinky

        I agree, Frank, it is an interesting question.

        I base my admittedly strong opinion partly on variances that are found in human twins and their offspring. For example:

        “…while MZ twins appear virtually identical, they are often discordant for disease.”

        “Although heredity clearly influences disease risk, the substantial discordance between MZ twins indicates that chromosomal DNA sequence alone cannot completely determine susceptibility (8). The imperfect disease concordance in MZ twins is an example of a more general phenomenon: (i.e. phenotypic differences between or among genetically identical organisms).

        and more to the point:

        “The cloning of mammals has recently been accomplished in a variety of species, and these experiments, technical feats in themselves, also present an opportunity to differentiate the effects of chromosomal DNA sequence from other factors that can influence phenotype. Although the offspring of these cloning experiments have the same genome as the donor animals, they exhibit a variety of phenotypic abnormalities that obviously cannot be attributed to genetic causes (19). In some cases, the phenotypes are pathological and represent disease states, whereas other abnormalities are more subtle, suggesting that these observations are relevant to understanding both susceptibility to human complex diseases and variation within a normal functional spectrum (20). The most famous of these cloning experiments was performed with sheep, but along with seemingly healthy lambs, many clone siblings died perinatally as a result of overgrowth, pulmonary hypertension and renal, hepatobiliary and body-wall defects (21). Some cloned mice are susceptible to obesity (22). In addition to higher overall weight, the cloned mice have the same inter-individual variability in weight as non-cloned control mice of the same genetic background (23). Clones in other species also show considerable variation in lifespan and disease phenotypes between genetically identical clones and non-cloned members of that species. This has been reported in pigs (24) and in cattle, where the main post-natal abnormality is musculoskeletal in origin (25).”

        Source:

        Phenotypic differences in genetically identical organisms: the epigenetic perspective

        Oxford Journals; Medicine & Health & Science & Mathematics; Human Molecular Genetics; Volume 14, Issue suppl 1; Pp. R11-R18.

        • One of the geneticists that I consulted when researching the story noted that “simple” reproduction is still not perfectly understood. The seamless manner in which animals can mate and reproduce is not easily mimicked in the laboratory, and some animals’ reproduction is more responsive to cloning than others. He said that some are just nearly impossible for some reason (probably hormonal or endocrinal), but we do not understand it.

          Attempts to mimic reproduction by cloning therefore vary widely in the rate of success, in the viability of the animals resulting, and in their prospects for useful or functional lives.

          For those of us who have witnessed foals, puppies, or people being born, the miracle of life is a personal experience. But science may prove that the metaphor isn’t that far from the truth.

      • AngelaFromAbilene

        “Scamper” an AQHA gelding Champion barrel horse was cloned. Of course the AQHA won the lawsuit so he is not registered but as far as I’ve heard, the clone has not performed as well.

        • Golden Trip

          As far as I can determine Clayton was never competed. Now the Smart Little Lena clones have not done much either, though I don’t think that was ever the plan and I believe at least one was gelded and another was sold to Australia.

        • Tres Abagados Stupidos

          Scamper’s clone never barrel raced. Probably because if he was a poor performer it would have taken some luster off the “breed to a clone of Scamper” push that Charmayne James was doing. I’m not sure they even saddle broke him but they might have.

  • hairdr90277

    Ah, but this tickles the imagination. If only . . .

  • Roxanne Cook

    AQHA has been battling the cloners for years, and last I heard, AQHA won the lawsuit and will not register clones.

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      They did and they don’t. Now if they’d do away with ET’s and unlimited AI, they’d start to get right.

  • riatea

    Well in the interest of science I would like to see this taken one step further and see him in training and see how he runs. Perhaps race him against some quality horses in a non-sanctioned race if he shows anything in his works. Due to enviromental differences I wouldn’t expect him to duplicate Storm Cat’s ability. Most intriguing would be how he would do as a sire. Do those enviromental differences somehow change the genetic material being transfered? Of course this will never happen, after all who would want to send a quality mare to an unregisterd stallion with the resulting foal being unable to race anyway.

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      You’d be surprised at how many fools will and would breed their mares to clones knowing full damn well the foals are ineligible for registration.

  • Rachel

    First, Storm Cat is not a father.
    Second, how many foals died before the two successful clones were delivered?
    Third, just because the DNA sequence is identical will the “right” genes be expressed at the identical time as SC?
    University of Utah ( as well as many other studies) show many risks and studies unintended consequences, as well as the basic question: Is it really a clone?

  • Quilla

    Geld the colt. There. Done.

  • AngelaFromAbilene

    Just because we can, does not mean we should. After watching the train wreck the AQHA created with AI, then ET’s, then multiple ET’s and now clones, anyone that *thinks* this is a good idea is an idiot.

    • reality check

      While I agree that cloning and registration do not and should not mix, I have no problem with CSS, FSS or ET. Shipping semen allows someone like me to breed to a stallion in a state that’s too far for normal shipping and breeding – TX, CA, FL, etc. And we had a higher rate of pregnancy using shipped semen. (Granted that’s as much on the stallion manager as anything.) There are very few stallions who saw significant number increases sustained by the allowance of shipping. ET is really not a big deal. The mares are only going to limit that number regardless. It does allow for mares that are physically incapable of carrying a foal to term, or that they wish to continue to show, etc., to have a foal. I’ve had people approach me about embryos from our big hunter under saddle mare. It’s an intriguing thought but not one I will act on for a while anyway. I would like to see ET allowed for hardship cases in the TBs… example – Rachel Alexandra. I’d also like to see the JC allow on-site AI. The benefits far outweigh the negatives. Yes, you will have “some” who will try to up their numbers but frankly those folks are already maxed out with live cover. It would just save some wear and tear on the stud. However, that will happen when I follow Frank Mitchell across the aforementioned water.

      I think because I worked for the ASHA when they started the CSS, FSS and ET, it’s really not that big of a deal to me. It really doesn’t affect numbers or quality. It does give mare owners access to stallions that were previously inaccessible. ET is self-limiting for most due to price. As we’ve seen with AQHA, it’s just a matter of time until someone forces the issue with the JC. How ET started in AQHA is still a source of irritation for me – they knew what they were doing when they did it, and when they started winning, suddenly they had to have those papers that they previously didn’t care about… $$$$

      • AngelaInAbilene

        “To preserve the integrity of the breed.” Those words mean a lot to me. I’m a purist. IMO- If a mare cannot physically carry a foal, she shouldn’t be bred. I don’t care who she is. And she sure as heck shouldn’t have more than 1 foal a year. If a stallion is not physically capable of covering a mare, too bad. Convenience is only a factor to me when it comes to food. People may try to force the issue with the Jockey Club but as long as they never open the door, those people will not have a leg to stand on. The AQHA only cares about registration fees. The more the better. Breeding technology has done nothing but increase their revenue while at the same time, increasing the number of horses available on the slaughter market.

        In the interest of full disclosure, I am having several cows AI’d next week with sexed semen. We may even flush a couple for ET’s. I’m trying to quickly and efficiently rebuild my herd and want to same bottom lines I have now. That being said, again, strictly IMO- there is a world of difference between producing high quality beef {food} and horses. Unless those horses too are being produced for food and we don’t do that in this country. Of course, indirectly the horses are or we wouldn’t be exporting so many for slaughter.

        This is another issue where you and I have a few commonalities as well as differences. Glad we can have a civil conversation. Keep talking and you may convince me yet to do an ET on my Azure Te x Jack Straw mare : )

        Slightly off topic but we’re looking for someone to show that little {he’s actually hit a lick and ain’t so little anymore} cutting bred colt my husband carried home. He has a great handle and a more willing horse I’ve never seen. I’ve even put him over the hunt course a couple of times. Any ideas?

        • reality check

          For the stallion side, it’s not really a matter of convenience. Onsite AI would have very few downsides. It would protect the mare and stallion from STDs. It would increase the safety for the humans working the sheds. Single collections can be used for more than one mare thus eliminating wear and tear on the stallion for those facilities that presume flooding the market is a good thing. Onsite would not have a negative impact on the support industries such as vanning companies, boarding farms, etc.
          Ack! I didn’t know she was Azure Te too! Love it!!!
          What do you want to do with him? They have Ranch Horse classes now that are cool. Plus the usual stuff. :)

  • Michael Castellano

    You are your experiences in life, whether a horse or a human. This
    determines as much or more than any characteristics passed along by the genetics. I
    think the will to run faster than another horse is one characteristic
    that develops over time based on many factors, and may explain how some
    great horses on the track are duds in stud. Some genetic characteristics
    that lead to superior ability may be passed along without other
    necessary ones. It’s why bloodlines are not always the primary factor
    behind a horse’s ability.

    • True. I know a race owner who would go to the breeder’s pastures and note what mare was the most dominant in each field. He would come back after they foaled, and note which dominant mare was still dominant. Then after the foals were weaned he would look to see which dominant mare had the most dominant foal and buy that one. The desire to be first is as important as how fast a horse can run.

  • 4Bellwether666

    Humans go places they know they should never go but go come hell are high water when money is involved…Anyway you slice it there will never be but one Storm Cat and he has passed into the mystic…

  • Daniel Jividen

    “Oh brave new world that hath such creatures in it!”

  • Tres Abagados Stupidos

    It is my understanding from a geneticist that has studied cloning that it is impossible to have a 100% clone due to certain strands of Mitochondrial (sp?) DNA being unable to be 100% duplicated. I am not a scientist and have no idea what he was talking about but he assured me that a cloned horse would not be an exact 100% double of the horse you were cloning. Anyone that knows anything different please speak up as I would like to know if this is true or not.

    • That is also my understanding. A breeder I know pointed out that cloned horses often have different markings so they are clearly NOT identical to the animal being cloned. Personally, I would not clone nor have a cloned horse for any purpose and especially not for breeding.

  • Jaime

    crazy rich people

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