White Thoroughbreds: Genetically Mutant Snow Drops

by | 04.25.2013 | 10:56am
Painted Patchen, seen here as a foal

The fields at Patchen Wilkes Farm are once again filled with a dozen new mares and foals, and as usual, a few of the farm's trademark white horses are standing out like snowdrops against the green grass.

The farm welcomed a new white foal in March to white mare Spot of Beauty and Thunder Gulch, and this one breaks even the Patchen Wilkes color mold.

“This one's full of color. He looks like a paint horse. He's wild looking,” said farm manager Barry Ezrine.

The foal has a touch of chestnut on his ears, similar to that of a “medicine hat” paint horse. Medicine hat paints are considered by Native American culture to have special powers. At only a few weeks old, colt seems well aware of the fact, prancing and playing alongside his dam, who has some distinctive spots of her own.

White horses have historically been symbols of power, fertility, and prophecy, and are vehicles of warriors and gods in ancient cultures across the globe. More recently, Japan's Emperor Hirohito was pictured riding a white stallion in propaganda media during World War II. The horse became a symbol of Japanese dominance and was ultimately shipped to the United States after the war was over for public appearances, where he was defined as a legal partner in the rodeo exhibitions at which he appeared.

Although Patchen Wilkes is well-known for its white Thoroughbreds, it doesn't have the market cornered. Several miles away, in another foaling barn, white mare Turf Club gave birth to white filly by Old Fashioned that same month. The filly also wears a medicine hat.

The Patchen Wilkes colt marks the sixth generation of white Thoroughbreds on the farm since the birth of the famed White Beauty in 1963. Although she was the first white Thoroughbred registered by the Jockey Club, legend has it that the truly original white Thoroughbred was steeplechase runner White Cross, born in Tennessee in 1896. Another case supposedly occurred in Germany in 1925, and a third—Mont Blanc II—was born in France in the same year as White Beauty. None of the horses were known to be directly, closely related to each other.

In White Beauty's case, it's thought that she got the genetic ingredients for her white coat from her sire, the chestnut sabino named Ky Colonel, who also produced War Colors. War Colors was registered as gray or roan, but in reality was likely white also.

Curiously, Turf Club doesn't seem to have White Beauty or Ky Colonel in her lineage, so where did she get the genetic blueprint for her coat?

White Patchen Wilkes mare Precious Beauty

White Patchen Wilkes mare Precious Beauty

Unlike some genetic oddities, white horses are not the result of two rare genetic carriers being paired together, explained Samantha Brooks, PhD, assistant professor of equine genetics at Cornell University.

Instead, Brooks said, they are basically genetic mutants.

Her research indicates that there is a gene called KIT in which any one of about 20 different mutations could occur that would result in a white or partially white coat color.

“They cause both dominant white horses, who are fully white, and then they also cause some more variable white phenotypes, like Airdrie Apache (another white Thoroughbred whose coat is mottled with brown),” said Brooks. “Many of these spontaneous white horses will have a KIT mutation.”

The spontaneity explains why Turf Club and Spot of Beauty could look so similar without actually sharing much DNA—and why Airdrie Apache seems to come from another pedigree line altogether.

“We think they are spontaneous, novel mutations in most cases because usually, once they appear, are dominantly inherited so they wouldn't be able to hide for many generations, waiting for the right combination to appear,” said Brooks. For this reason, a gray horse isn't any more likely to throw a white foal than a bay, since the gene for gray coat color is in a completely different location from the KIT gene.

Spot of Beauty's rather large freckles and her colt's sacred “hat” don't preclude either of them from being registered with the Jockey Club as white Thoroughbreds, according to registrar Rick Bailey.

“White is defined in the color guide section of the Rules as follows: The entire coat, including the mane, tail and legs, is predominantly [emphasis added] white,” he said via email. Distinctive markings such as brown ears or spots would be noted on the foal's papers.

Ezrine said that although the line of white horses has been the farm's trademark for 50 years, he doesn't manage or breed them any differently than any other Thoroughbred.

“We've gotten whites, and bays and chestnuts and grays by the same stallion,” recalled Ezrine. “I've learned that it doesn't make any difference. We bred both Patchen Beauty and Spot of Beauty to Devil His Due, who was almost black, and got two white foals.”

Spot of Beauty with her 2013 Thunder Gulch colt

Spot of Beauty with her 2013 Thunder Gulch colt

The only management difference, he said, is that the farm might go through a little more shampoo than most.

“The dirt shows up a lot easier. They love to roll in the mud.”

Following the death of Patchen Beauty in March, Spot of Beauty and Precious Beauty are the last remaining white broodmares on the farm, but Patchen Wilkes does have a 2-year-old colt in training. Ezrine doesn't anticipate he will get back into the business of stallions when the colt retires, however (the farm's only stallion, The White Fox, died of colic in 2010). The farm is operating as normal although the land it sits on has shrunk with the construction of roadways and a subdivision. While construction in the subdivision halted after the housing market crashed, the farm will cease operations if and when it runs out of land.

In The White Fox's time at stud, which he spent at Hopewell Farm, he was, perhaps surprisingly, not courted by sport horse breeders on the hunt for his unusual color. The case of Airdrie Apache, the sabino son of white mare Not Quite White (no close relation to White Beauty), is quite different. His coat allows him to be double registered as a Paint—a commodity that is the driving force behind his popularity at stud. Airdrie Apache and white Thoroughbred stallion Bright White (also of no direct relation to Patchen Wilkes' band) stand at Desert Oasis Performance Horses in Nevada.

The white coat has gotten Airdrie Apache descendants more than just commercial appeal—Arctic Bright View, a son of Panoramic and white Airdrie Apache mare Arcticanna, made his career as a movie star. He will be starring in the upcoming Lone Ranger movie as the Ranger's horse, Silver.

  • marshall cassidy

    Sorry to rain on your parade, but that little beauty pictured above is not a “white” Thoroughbred. The Jockey Club, sole arbiter of all Thoroughbred descriptions for identification purposes, declares a white Thoroughbred to be white, with no colors other than white on any part of the body.

    Looking at the photograph above I am hard-pressed to agree that it is a Thoroughbred of any color.

    Of course, Natalie Voss meant no harm when she wrote this press release promoting the Patchen Wilkes Farm. However, perhaps she ought to become more familiar with The Jockey Club’s definitions of Thoroughbred identity — and, perhaps the Paulick Report should more closely scrutinize such submissions.

    Otherwise, this colt by Thunder Gulch is an eye-catcher simply because he is different.

    • Natalie Voss

      Thanks for the comment, marshall. I welcome any and all productive feedback but do prefer that users read content a little more carefully before providing it. As you may or may not have noticed in the copy, I actually wondered about the amount of brown on the Spot of Beauty colt as well, which is why I consulted the Jockey Club while writing this piece:

      “Spot of Beauty’s rather large freckles and her colt’s sacred ‘hat’ don’t preclude either of them from being registered with the Jockey Club as white Thoroughbreds, according to registrar Rick Bailey.

      ‘White is defined in the color guide section of the Rules as follows: The entire coat, including the mane, tail and legs, is predominantly [emphasis added] white,’ he said via email. Distinctive markings such as brown ears or spots would be noted on the foal’s papers.”

      Further, this is not a press release but in fact, original feature content. I examined the issue of white Thoroughbreds through the prism of Patchen Wilkes since their line is most well-publicized in trade magazines thanks to its appearance in sale rings and on central Kentucky racetracks, however this is not a promotional piece for or by the farm. I am proud to say as a Paulick Report staff member that we do not pass off promotional press releases as original material and designate them by placing “Press Release” in the byline space.

      • marshall cassidy

        I apparently owe you an apology. My experience from working at The Jockey Club in the 1960s informed my comment. The TJC description of “white” has apparently changed. Sorry.

        • Natalie Voss

          No problem, marshall!

          • marshall cassidy

            Thank you. My bad!

  • Kris

    An very interesting story which I greatly enjoyed.

  • Great piece ty…Bet ABV (as Silver) looks beautiful in the Lone Ranger…Can’t wait to see that flick…

  • Joe Nevills

    Sorry to open an umbrella on this rained-upon parade, but that little beauty pictured above is, in fact, a “white” horse in the eyes of the The Jockey Club.

    Of course, Mr. Cassidy meant to assert his superiority by belittling the writer in a passive-aggressive manner in this comment promoting himself. However, perhaps he ought to better educate himself in the Jockey Club’s process in classifying “white” horse. Several foals by white stallion Arctic White have had the splash of color that this lovely colt has had, and according to the Equineline records, they were registered as “white” as can be seen at the following link. Feel free to run an Equineline report to verify their color status: http://www.shadowmountainstables.com/ARCTIC%20WHITE%20PEDIGREE.htm

    Additionally, Spot of Beauty bears her own share of markings and is considered “white” in the eyes of the Jockey Club, as are all of her foals. Ms. Voss clearly states in her article that some markings are allowed to maintain their “white” status, which are documented on their paperwork. Perhaps the Paulick Report should more closely scrutinize the accuracy of such commenters.

    Otherwise, this colt by Thunder Gulch is an eye-catcher simply because he is different – because so few horses are classified as “white.”

    • nu-fan

      Great–and objective–comments. Thank you. One more thing though: That is one cute colt! Can’t wait to see what he looks like in a couple of years.

  • Interestingly, and coincidentally, this article appears within 24 hours of the first white Thoroughbred foaled (and registered as white) in South Africa entering the sales ring at the National Yearling Sales being held at the TBA Sales complex in Johannesburg.

    GRAN BLANCO (see catalogue page here http://www.tba.co.za/bsa/doped.php?url=2013nys&lotstr=lot74.htm&nm=Gran%20Blanco&other1=74) sells Friday 26 April at about 1pm local time (which is just over three hours from now!)

    Bred and consigned by Rathmor Stud in KwaZulu Natal the colt has his own page on the Rathmor Stud website – with many photographs showing this colt, who also appears to have chestnut coloured ears: http://www.rathmorstud.co.za/News20022013GranBlanco.html

  • A 3yo son of The White Fox, named Chief White Fox, at Keeneland a few weeks ago if anyone is interested – http://Instagram.com/p/X-qgQtNkl_/

    • and I got to see Chief White Fox as a newborn at our barn in Lexington! Paul thought there had been a baby deer somehow get into the barn, as he was really not expecting a white fella, but my friend, Diamonds and Lace, a lovely mare that great man Paul saved from an unscrupulous “owner” God Bless you Paul, but after closer look he realized it was a white colt!! I have some personally taken photos of CWF after just being born, and he is a pure true white, with a glow orb around him when out in the sun. Congrats, Paul, I appreciate your kindness and friendship while I was there!! And thank you for saving Diamonds! A true, kind horseman! This story was featured in one of the Lexington newpapers back when the colt was born and the story of the then thought deer baby! LOL Paul!! :)

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